Cyperus laevigatus

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Ehuʻawa
  • Makaloa
  • Makoloa

Hawaiian Names

  • Ehuawa
  • Makaloa
  • Makoloa

Common Names

  • Smooth flatsedge

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Spreading

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Grass-like, Medium, 1 to 2.5

Mature Size, Width

It has an 8-foot spread.

Life Span

Short lived (Less than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Erosion Control
  • Ground Cover
  • Water Features

Additional Landscape Use Information

This charming short sedge can be used with other native water-loving plants. A great plant for smaller water features with limited space. Makaloa can be crowded out by larger more aggressive sedges.

Makaloa can be used in water can be used to control erosion along stream banks and provide a natural food source and shelter for native water birds such as ʻalae ʻula (moorhen) and ʻalae keʻokeʻo (coot).

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Brownish
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Makaloa has 12 to 24 spikelets with pale yellowish-brown barely noticeable flowers.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Since makaloa is relatively short-lived, it is good to collect its seeds for future plantings. The seeds will be dry, light brown and papery when ripe. Makaloa will also regenerate in the same location with continuous moisture. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Makaloa leaves range from approximately 4 to 18 inches long.

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Makaloa is prone to ants, scale, mealy bugs and aphids.

leaf Growth Requirements


For makaloa plantings in containers that hold water, some fertilizer is beneficial. Be cautious because too much nitrogen can produce green algae in water, especially in the summer months. No fertilizer is necessary in large water features such as fish ponds because the plants will receive their nutrient needs from the watery habitat. Never apply fertilizers to any natural wetlands sites. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Spent, or dead, stems of makaloa can be trimmed off or left as is in natural pond settings. If stems are left on plant, seed heads will be able disperse seed into water for natural regeneration. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Water Requirements

  • Wet

Additional Water Information

Makaloa grows on sandy coastal sites and in and around fresh and brackish water and mudflats.

If little water is provided, it often results in short or stunted plants, sometimes only a few inches high. To grow to their full potential make sure the substrate (growing media) is constantly waterlogged. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Full sun is preferable but does fine in partial sun too.

Spacing Information

Makaloa is best propagated by divisions. Clumps need at least 10 to 15 stems and must include an underground rhizome. The clumps can be planted from one to three feet apart. Planted in water or very wet locations and in full sun, makaloa will spread rapidly by rhizomes to form a large fibrous root mat. It is very good for controlling soil erosion in wet areas.


  • Waterlogged Soil
  • Brackish Water
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray


  • Sand
  • Organic


Not drought tolerant.

Special Growing Needs

See above under "Additional Water Information."

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Niʻihau
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Maui
  • Kahoʻolawe
  • Northwest Islands

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)


  • Aquatic

Additional Habitat Information

Makaloa grows on mud flats, sandy coastal sites, and on edges of and in fresh, brackish and salt water ponds and anchialine pools. In the Northwest Islands, it is found only on Laysan (Kauō) where it makes up an important a part of the habitat in and around the 100-acre hyper saline lake in the center of the island. Here this sedge provides a habitat for the endangered Laysan duck and Laysan finch.

On Niʻihau sheep nearly exterminated the plants until protective barriers were installed around the shore of Halāliʻi Lake where the plants were found. [2] According to one source "Makaloa still grows at Lake Lalulu, Linakauhane, Kalanei [Kalānei] and Papataale." [9, brackets are Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

There are fourteen species in the genus Cyperus that are native to the Hawaiian Archipelago, with eight that are endemic, or found exclusively, here. Cyperus belong to the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae) consisting of some 4,000 species in about 70 genera.

Famous, or infamous, non-native relatives include papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), the source of the Egyptian writing material and the origin of the English word paper; piripiri or cañita (Cyperus giganteus) used in parts of Mexico for plaiting sleeping mats and sambreros; and the ever-present noxtious lawn weed nutsedge or "nutgrass" (Cyperus rotundus) that keep homeowners busy and gardeners employed, but also used in Kampō (traditional Japanese/Chinese medicine). [4]


The generic name Cyperus comes from the kyperos, the Greek word for sedge.

The specific epithet laevigatus means smooth in Latin, in reference to the smooth stems of this rush, as the  common name Smooth flatsedge suggests.

Hawaiian Name:

The name makaloa was used on Niʻihau, whereas on the other islands it is called ehuʻawa. [2]

The name Ehuʻawa for this species should not be confused with ʻEhuʻawa (Cyperus javanicus), which has ʻokina before the "E."

Makaloa is "a general name for shellfish with long sharp edges (e.g. Thais intermedia, Drupa morum)." [13]

Makaloa also means "very green, as a fruit," but not clear if this meaning has a relationship with this sedge. [5]

Background Information

Makaloa is an essential plant for our native damselflies or pinao ʻula (Megalagrion spp). Pinao ʻula need to rest and observe its surroundings for predators and/or prey, makaloa provides the perfect plant to do this. As pinao ʻula rest on the stems, or leaf blades, its eyes are perfectly designed to see either side and around the makaloa stems or leaf blades. [7]

Early Hawaiian Use


Early Hawaiians cultivated makaloa to some degree. Since other plants crowded it out, barrels or cylindrical containers were placed around the clumps to encourage longer stems for use.


Since wauke, used for tapa (kapa) was apparently not grown, or very limited, on Niʻihau, the makaloa mats were used for making clothing, such as pāʻū (women's skirts), loincloth (malo), capes (kīhei), and cloaks (koloka).

The finest makaloa mat at the Bishop Museum is 10.5 x 20 feet, with 25 stems per per inch and worn as a cloak by Kemehameha the Great (Kamehameha I). [10] Incidentally, Kamehameha's full Hawaiian name is Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea. [11]


Stem fibers were woven into string or rope. [6,9]


Makaloa is found elsewhere in Polynesia, but only early Hawaiians used them to plait mats. Though makaloa mats were primarily made on Niʻihau and Kauaʻi, they were occasionally made on other islands as well. Mats from Niʻihau and Kauaʻi were considered to be the finest in all of Polynesia. [1,8,9,12]

Stems were used whole, usually not not split, for even finer mats. [5,10,12] The upper yellowish and the lower reddish parts were used with the shiny side out. [10,12] Makaloa stems were woven into beautiful decorated mats, or moena pāwehe, only by women.  Young plants made the finest mats. [10] The Treasury of Hawaiian Words in One Hundred and One Categories states that "young plants yielded the best stems for such plaiting." [14]

Mats were also woven for sails on canoes (waʻa), and for floor and mattress covers (uhi pela). [2,9,10]

Another sedge, or rush, kohekohe (Eleocharis obtusa, E. erythropoda) was used to weave design patterns in makaloa mats. (See Eleocharis erythropoda, "Special Notes and Information")


Fibers also used to remove impurities form medicinal liquid. [6,9]

Stalks were crushed to a fine powder and used to treat deep cuts, boils, skin ulcers and other skin disorders or taken as a snuff for head colds. Flower and stalk ashes mixed with kukui nut juice was rubbed on tongue for general debility. Crushed stalks mixed with water and clay was used to treat burning in male genitals. [6]

Modern Use

Today, makaloa stems are still used to make hats, mats and baskets. One publication notes that "the sedge is woven in elaborate patterns with as many as 30 strands in an inch." [3]

On Molokaʻi, makaloa is used to treat wastewater. [3]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 32, 59, 73-74.
[2] "A Chronicle and Flora of Niihau" by Juliet Rice Wichman and Harold St. John, pages 67, 68, 82-83.

[3] "Amy Greenwell Garden Ethnobotanical Guide to Native Hawaiian Plants & Polynesian Introduced Plants" by Noa Kekuewa Lincoln, page 24.

[4] [accessed 10/12/09]

[5] "Plants of the Canoe People" by W. Arthur Whistler, page 94.

[6] "Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value, by D.M. Kaaiakamanu & J.K. Akina, page 9.

[7] Dan Polhemus & David Preston [personal communication, 10/07]

[8] "Pacific Basket Makers: A Living Tradition." Suzi Jones (Editor), page 54.

[9] "Niihau--The Traditions of an Hawaiian Island" by Rerioterai Tava, pages 33, 34, 61.

[10] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 86.

[11] [Accessed 6/22/11]

[12] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, pages 73-74.

[13] [Accessed on 12/12/12]

[14] "Treasury of Hawaiian Words in One Hundred and One Categories" by Harold Winfield Kent, page 191.



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