Diospyros sandwicensis

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Lama
  • Ēlama

Hawaiian Names

  • Elama
  • Lama

Common Names

  • Hawaiian ebony
  • Hawaiian persimmon


  • Diospyros ferrea var. sandwicensis
  • Ebenus sandwicensis
  • Maba degeneri
  • Maba kauaiensis
  • Maba sandwicensis
  • Maba toppingii

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

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30

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.

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

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Greenish-White
  • Pink
  • White

Additional Flower Color Information

The plant has very small waxy greenish-white or pink flowers.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Female lama bloom and produce fruits once a year. The small yellow to reddish orange fruit are edible and are bland to mildly sweet.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves are thick and leathery.

Leaf Colors

  • Light 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

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

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


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Cinder
  • Organic
  • Coral


Slow growing. This plant does not do well in pots and will eventually die or severely stunt its growth.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • Less than 150, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)

Additional Habitat Information

Lama can be a principal or minor part of the dry and mesic forests, and sometimes in wet forests from about 15 to 4000 feet on all of the main islands, except Niʻihau and Kahoʻolawe. On the island of Hawaiʻi, lama can be found growing in open lava fields.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Lama belong to a family consisting of 450-500 species in the genus Diospyros. [3]

The two native species are 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). [3]


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 species name sandwicensis refers to the "Sandwich Islands," as the Hawaiian Islands were once called, and named by James Cook on one of his voyages in the 1770's. James Cook named the islands after John Montagu (The fourth Earl of Sandwich) for supporting Cook's voyages.

Hawaiian Names:

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

A modern-day section of Honolulu, a school, and a canal are all named Kapālama, means "the lama wood enclosure," where high chiefs were protected. Pālama, a street and another section of Honolulu, means "lama wood enclosure." [5]

Early Hawaiian Use

The wood was used for the framework of houses, temple construction, and handles for stone chisels. [2,6,9]


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 of lama, called piʻoi, were eaten by early Hawaiians. [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 semi-sweet fruit is enjoyed by hikers and backpackers today.

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

[3] (accessed 8/24/09)

[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] [Accessed 2/16/11]

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



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