Eragrostis variabilis

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Kalamālō
  • Kāwelu
  • ʻEmoloa

Hawaiian Names

  • Emoloa
  • Kalamalo
  • Kawelu

Common Names

  • Lovegrass
  • Variable lovegrass


  • Eragrostis equitans
  • Eragrostis hawaiiensis
  • Eragrostis hobdyi
  • Eragrostis niihauensis
  • Eragrostis phleoides
  • Eragrostis thyrsoidea
  • Eragrostis wahowensis
  • Poa variabilis

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Clumping
  • Non-Woody, Spreading

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Grass-like, Medium, 1 to 2.5

Mature Size, Width

Kāwelu has a 2 to 3 foot spread.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Erosion Control
  • Ground Cover

Additional Landscape Use Information

Native grasses should be incorporated more in home and commercial landscapes.They are non invasive and fill in gaps in the landscape by adding another element of texture and enhancing more showier natives. They are "the roadies for the stars."

Currently, there are a few Eragrostis species in cultivation with kāwelu being the one most encountered. Kāwelu can be used with a number of native plants in full sun or open windy locations with minimal water (xeric). When planted en masse it can also be used as an effective soil or sand erosion control.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Brownish
  • Red

Blooming Period

  • Year Round

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

These are perennial grasses.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Kāwelu leaves grow to about 24 inches long.

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

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

leaf Growth Requirements


For kāwelu use small amounts of a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every six months. Foliar feed monthly with kelp or fish emulsion, or a commercial fertilizer with a weak dilution of one half to one third of recommended strength. Do not over fertilize these plants. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Remove spent seed stalks for a clean landscape appearance. Cut off flower flowering spikes to prolong plants life.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Allow to dry between waterings. Keep moist for the first two or three weeks after plantings. Then slowly reduce watering. Water kāwelu when soil dries out or nearly so.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun

Spacing Information

Kāwelu should be spaced at 3 feet apart.


  • Drought
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray


  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Organic
  • Coral

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Niʻihau
  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Kahoʻolawe
  • Hawaiʻi
  • Northwest Islands

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)

Additional Habitat Information

Kāwelu is known to occur on sand dunes, grasslands, open sites in dry forest, and exposed slopes and ridges or cliffs. On the main islands and the Northwest Islands of Kure Atoll (Kānemilohaʻi), Midway Atoll (Pihemanu), Pearl & Hermes Reef (Holoikauaua), Lisianski (Papaʻāpoho), Laysan (Kauō), and Nīhoa, kāwelu is often a main component for native bird habitat.

The majority of the seabird Christmas shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis) that breed on Nīhoa, nest in the tufts of kāwelu or in ʻakoko (Chamaesyce celastroides) thickets. [2]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

The lovegrasses (Eragrostis spp.) comprise some 300 species in the Grass family (Poaceae). There are nine native species, of which eight are endemic. Of these, the Pacific lovegrass (Eragrostis deflexa) is rare, Fosberg's lovegrass (E. fosbergii) is endangered, and Maui lovegrass (E. mauiensis) is considered extinct.

There are also thirteen introduced and naturalized species.


The Latin name Eragrostis comes from the Greek eros, meaning loving (in an erotic sense), and Agrostis, a genus of fodder grasses.

The specific epithet variabilis is from the Latin for changeable or variable.

Background Information

Kāwelu or ʻemoloa is one of the more commonly encountered native grasses in its natural habitat. A common vernacular name is Variable lovegrass. [1]

This bunchgrass is important as a food source and nesting site for the Laysan finch (Telespiza cantans), a honeycreeper endemic to Laysan (Kauō), but also introduced to Midway Atoll and Pearl and Hermes Reef. These birds also once inhabited Oʻahu and Molokaʻi in prehistoric times. [4]

Early Hawaiian Use

House Construction:

Occasionally kāwelu was substituted for pili (Heteropogon contortus) in thatching by early Hawaiians. [3]


Kāwelu moving in the breeze is said to have inspired a swaying hula step. [2]

Additional References

[1] "Grasses of Hawaii" by Peter P. Rotar, page 322.
[2] "Natural History of Nihoa and Necker Islands" by Neal L. Evenhuis, pages 58, 60.
[3] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 58.

[4] "The Hawaiian Honeycreeper: Drapandidae" by H. Douglas Pratt, pages 20, 199, 200.



leafMore Links

Plant Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Back to Plant List

Plant List

Other Nursery Profiles for Eragrostis variabilis