Hawaiian Names with Diacritics
- Kaunaʻoa kahakai
- Kaunaʻoa lei
- Kaunaoa kahakai
- Kaunaoa lei
- Hawaiian dodder
- Hawaiʻi dodder
Endangered Species Status
Plant Form / Growth Habit
- Sprawling Shrub
Mature Size, Height (in feet)
- Shrub, Dwarf, Less than 2
Mature Size, Width
On flat surfaces, not much more than a few inches high and perhaps 10+ feet in width. The width and height, however, are dependent upon the surrounding plants.
No data available.
- Trellis or Fence Climber
Additional Landscape Use Information
Kaunaʻoa kahakai is not be suitable for the average commercial landscape.
They may have use in a native Hawaiian garden or grown for lei. Plants can be grown in a container with a host plant. The bright yellow to yellow-orange colored stems certainly command attention.
NOTE: Please keep in mind that kaunaʻoa kahakai is a parasitic plant and can greatly harm or kill their host plants. Do not plant near your valuable plants.
Source of Fragrance
- No Fragrance
Plant Produces Flowers
Additional Flower Color Information
Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information
The fruits are small, less than pea-sized, and are whitish with tiny black seeds.
Additional Plant Texture Information
These parisitic plants appear leafless with small scale-like leaves.
A similar looking species is the indigenous kaunaʻoa pehu (Cassytha filiformis). It is an unrelated plant in the Laurel family (Lauraceae) with the same parasitic nature. Kaunaʻoa pehu, literally "swollen kaunaʻoa," can be distinguished by it larger, coarser yellowish-green stems.
So size-wise, if kaunaʻoa pehu is the spaghetti, than kaunaʻoa kahakai would be the capelli d'angelo or angel-hair pasta.
Additional Pest & Disease Information
Can transmit viruses to host plant. 
Kaunaʻoa kahakai are provided sustenance from their host plants by means of haustoria, specialized roots for extracting the nutrients. It would appear, then, that additional fertilizers would not be required. Use fertilizer on host plant.
Trim or break off unwanted growth. 
Additional Water Information
Keep moist until plant establishes itself onto its host. Thereafter, watering is rarely needed.
Soil must be well drained
- Full sun
- Salt Spray
(See Special Growing Needs below)
Special Growing Needs
Kaunaʻoa do not have true roots and so require a host plant(s) to survive. Stems can be placed over a host plant and will parisitize the plant. They do not appear to be choosey about their hosts, but prefer shrubs and trees with bushy growth such as noni. 
Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)
- Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
- 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
Additional Habitat Information
Kaunaʻoa kahakai is found in coastal areas, often sandy soil, from sea level to about 985 feet. It is more common on the older islands. 
This fascinating plant is not rare or even uncommon, but seems to be sporadic throughout its range.
Cuscuta (Dodder) is a genus of about 100-170 species of yellow, orange or red (rarely green) parasitic plants. Formerly treated as the only genus in the family Cuscutaceae, recent genetic research by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group has shown that it is correctly placed in the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. The genus is found throughout the temperate to tropical regions of the world, with the greatest species diversity in subtropical and tropical regions. 
Cuscuta sandwichiana is the only native member in the genus that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.
There is also a smaller, paler non-native species, the Western field dodder (Cuscuta campestris), that is sparingly naturalized on Oʻahu, West Maui, and Hawaiʻi Island. It is less common than Cuscuta sandwichiana.
The generic name Cuscuta is derived from the Arabic kuskut, meaning a tangled twist of hair, in reference to the habit of this plant.
The specific epithet sandwichiana refers to the "Sandwich Islands," as the Hawaiian Islands were once called, and named by James Cook on one of his voyages in the 1770s. James Cook named the islands after John Montagu (The fourth Earl of Sandwich) for supporting Cook's voyages.
The Hawaiian name Kaunaʻoa kahakai means "kaunaʻoa by the seashore." An appropriate name since they can be seen growing in beach sands parisitizing other plants, such as the indigenous grass ʻakiʻaki (Sporobolus virginicus), pāʻūohiʻiaka, ʻilima, pōhuehue and, pardon the pun, a "host" of others.
These parasitic plants are not pickey about their hosts and have been recorded on a number of introduced and native plants.
The Territorial Legislature in 1923 designated lei kaunaʻoa to represent the island of Lānaʻi but is now rare on this island. 
Some have considered this endemic species to be "declared noxious" as a weed. 
Because of its parasitic nature kaunaʻoa kahakai is often called "the motherless plant." 
Early Hawaiian Use
Kaunaʻoa or kaunaʻoa kahakai was used in lei making for both lei o ka poʻo (head lei) and lei āʻī (neck lei) [1,3,8,9]
Both kaunaʻoa kahakai and kaunaʻoa pehu (Cassytha filiformis) were used. The plants were pounded until soft, strained, and juice drunk to thin blood for women who have given birth or whose had thick blood. 
Kaunaʻoa kahakai is still used in lei making today. [1,3] Lei kaunaʻoa is "worn like a feather cloak upon's one's shoulders." 
Plants grown under cultivation for lei making will reduce gathering from wild populations for use.
 "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 36-37.
 "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, pages 58-59.
 "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 710-711.
 "Hawai'i's Plants and Animals--Biological Sketches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park" by Charles P. Stone & Linda W. Pratt, page 107.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuscuta [Accessed on 7/11/11]
 "Handbook of Hawaiian Weeds" by E. L. Haselwood, page 304.
 "Nā Hoaloha o Lānaʻi (Vol. 2, Issue 2) January 2009" by the Lānaʻi Culture & Heritage Center, page 1.
 "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 77.
 "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, pages 127, 128.
 "Growing Plants for Hawaiian Lei" by CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources), Universirty of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, pages 16-17.
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