Diospyros hillebrandii

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Lama
  • Ēlama

Hawaiian Names

  • Elama
  • Lama

Common Names

  • Hillebrand's lama
  • Hillebrand's persimmon


  • Diospyros ferrea var. hillebrandii
  • Ebenus hillebrandii
  • Maba hillebrandii

Did You Know…?

Lama is closely related to ebony, known for its prized black wood, and also persimmon, with its delicous sweet fruit.

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Tree, Dwarf, Less than 15
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50

Mature Size, Width

Lama is known to have a spread greater than 20 feet.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

The trees can be slow growing, especially when young. Plant in ground at a young age. This species (D. hillebrandii) in cultivation seems to grow more rapidly than D. sandwicensis. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Lama is not suitable as a potted plant and will eventually weaken if not planted out into the landscape.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Fruit is pale orange to red.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Lama leaves are generally thick and leathery. One of the characteristic that separate the two native species of lama is their leaves. The featured species (D. hillebrandii) has darker oblong-elliptic leaves with conspicuous pitting on the surface; D. sandwicensis has paler lanceolate leaves with no pitting.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

The colors of new growth (liko) range from vibrant shades of red, magenta, pink or orange.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Lama is prone to scale, a small gray weevil (unidentified species) and Chinese rose beetles which affect tree growth. To discourage the Chinese rose beetles, plant the trees under a porch, street or yard light. You can also plant tall grass around the plant to keep these pests away. Black twig borers is also a major threat.

Scale sometimes attack young lama if too much fertilizer is used. [7]

leaf Growth Requirements


For small trees an application of a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every six months. Foliar feed monthly with kelp or fish emulsion, or a water-soluble fertilizer with a dilution of one half to one third of recommended strength. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Generally not required. But it should be minimal and selective if necessary.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Once lama is well established water once a month during dry months.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Partial sun
  • Shade

Additional Lighting Information

Lama does best in full sun but can grow in moderate shade.


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Cinder
  • Organic


Somewhat slow growing. This species appears to grow much quicker when placed in the ground. Lama  does not do well in pots and will eventually die or severely stunt its growth.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Scattered to common primarily in diverse mesic forests from 490 to about 2500 feet. The trees are found in both the Waiʻanae and Koʻolau Mountains on Oʻahu. Some untypically larger leaved forms are found in Moanalua and other parts of the Koʻolau Mountains. [Joel Lau, Botanist]

This species may be found as low as 200 feet based on specimens in Waimea Valley Oʻahu. Though the leaves are dark green, perhaps due to the shaded habitat, these trees do not appear to have any pitting and are questionably this species or more likely D. sandwicensis. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Lama belong to a family consisting of 450-500 species in the genus Diospyros.

The two native species of lama or ēlama are Diospyros sandwicensis, native to most of the main islands, and D. hillebrandii found on Kauaʻi and Oʻahu.

Some of the notable family members include species prized for their beautiful wood such as the pure black wood of the Ceylon ebony (Diospyros ebenum) and the striped ebony or Makassar (D. celebica). Other relatives have edible fruit such as the deliciously sweet Japanese persimmon or kaki (D. kaki), and the highly nutritious American persimmon (D. virginiana). [2]


The generic name Diospyros is derived from the Greek, dios, god (Jove, Zeus, Jupiter), and pyros, grain in reference to the edible fruit in some species.

The specific epithet hillebrandii is named in honor of William Hillebrand (1821-1886), a young Prussian physician and plant collector. He planted many of the plants he collected at Queen's Hospital and on his own property in Nuʻuanu. After moving back to Germany the property was sold to his neighbors Thomas & Mary Foster. Today, it is known as the Foster Botanical Gardens.

Hawaiian Names:

The Hawaiian name lama means “light” or “enlightenment." [1] How apropos that the Kapiʻolani Community College Library (Oʻahu) building is called Lama.

A modern-day section of Honululu, a school, and a canal all named Kapālama, means "the lama wood enclosure," where high cheifs were protected. [5]

Background Information

Fossilized Diospyros hillebrandii leaf impressions are present in the solidified volcanic ash originating from the complex of volcanic vents in the land sections of Moanalua and Hālawa, O`ahu. Included among these vents are the craters of Āliapa`akai, Āliamanu, and Makalapa. [Joel Lau, Botanist]

Early Hawaiian Use

Early Hawaiians use the hard wood for the framework of houses, temple construction, and handles for stone chisels. [3,6,9]


Lama sticks (ʻaukā) to strengthen large one-way-in-no-way-out fish traps. [1] Lama lama means torch, which were used at night for fishing.


The edible fruit called piʻoi were eaten [4].


Lama wood was used as medicine. Huts (pupupu hale) were made in a single day of the wood during the daylight (lama) hours and the sick were placed inside them for curing. [6,9]


Inside a hālau hula was an altar (kuahu) on which a block of lama (Diospyros sandwicensis) was placed. The wood represented the goddess of hula, Laka. [6,9]

Modern Use

The wood is occasionally used in modern wood working today. [8]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 34, 41.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diospyros (accessed 8/24/09)

[3] "Arts and Crafts of Hawaii" by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter H. Buck), page 38.

[4] "Native Planters in Old Hawaii--Their Life, Lore, & Environment" by E. S. Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy, page 235.

[5] "Place Names of Hawaii" by Mary K. Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert, & Esther T. Mookini, page 87.

[6] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, pages 67-68, 117.

[7] "Growing Native Hawaiian Plants" by Heidi Bornhorst, pages 66, 67.

[8] http://www.koawoodhawaii.com/2.html [Accessed 2/16/11]

[9] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 674.

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