gallery

Erythrina sandwicensis

leaf Main Plant Information

Genus

Erythrina

Species

sandwicensis

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Wiliwili

Hawaiian Names

  • Wiliwili

Common Names

  • Hawaiian coral tree
  • Hawaiian erythrina

Synonyms

  • Corallodendron monospermum
  • Erythrina monosperma

Names with Unknown Sources

  • Wili wili

Did You Know…?

The preferred choice by early Hawaiians for surfboards (papa heʻe nalu), whether long boards (alaia) or short boards (olo), was the lightweight wood of wiliwili. Since larger trees may have been difficult to find to be suitable for the surfboards, they were probably reserved for the nobility, including the chiefs.

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status

Endemic

Endangered Species Status

At Risk

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50
  • Tree, Large, Greater than 50

Mature Size, Width

Canopy spread is roughly the same as the height, with a max to about 60 feet.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

Wiliwili will grow in the harshest environments where few other native plants can survive. It can provide shade when

These beautiful stately trees can be used as a single, focal show case tree or planted en masse in larger areas provided there is full sun and optimal drainage.

Wiliwili seem to be tough and resilient trees. These are two horror stories testifying to this fact:

  • One was of a truck backing into a tree and severely damaging the trunk with a huge chunk taken off. The tree fully recovered, albeit with a nasty scar. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi].
  • An eye witness account was of some workers transplanting a wiliwili after cutting off much of the root system when removing it and then rolling it as if it were a log from one planting hole to the other. This tree, despite this harsh treatment, and the onslaught of gall wasps to boot, survives and flowers to this day! [Priscilla Millen, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Perhaps you have your own stories to tell of this nearly cast iron native tree.

Plant Produces Flowers

Yes

leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Showy

Flower Colors

  • Greenish-White
  • Light Orange
  • Orange
  • White
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Natural populations of wiliwili may have a variety of different flower-colored trees or all the same color. Some flowers are a mixture of two or more colors.

Blooming Period

  • Spring
  • Summer

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

The trees naturally go through a blooming/foliage cycle during the year, flowering from early spring to summer, leafing again in late summer to early fall and dropping their leaves before flowering again in spring. [4] When trees are in bloom there are usually few or no leaves present.

Seeds are brown, purplish, light to dark red, red-orange, orange, yellowish-orange, pale yellow, whitish, or greenish-white and have 1-3 seeds per pod.

Seeds are said to be poisonous. [14]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Wiliwili is one of the few native deciduous trees in Hawaiʻi. (See above "Additional Blooming Period Information") Leaves are wider than long and are smooth on the upper surface and hairy on the lower or under surface. They range between 1 and 4 inches long.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Spider mites, mealybugs, powdery mildew.

Since its discovery on Oʻahu in April 2005, the tiny Erythrina gall wasp (Quadrastichus erythrinae), or simply known as EGW, has been a serious pest and greatly affecting many populations of wiliwili and other non-native Erythrina species throughout the State of Hawaiʻi. [3] In November 2008, a few thousand Tanzanian parasitoid wasp (Eurytoma erthrinae) were released on most of the Main islands to paristize the EGW in hope of saving these beautiful trees. Recent reports indicate successful results for parisitizing the EGW. [6]

leaf Growth Requirements

Fertilizer

Young potted plants require low doses of soluble fertilizer on a regular basis. But once wiliwili is put in the ground, no additional fertilizer is required for these nitrogen-fixing trees.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Soil must be well drained

Yes

Light Conditions

  • Full sun

Tolerances

  • Drought
  • Wind
  • Heat

Soils

  • Cinder

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

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)

Habitat

  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Wiliwili is found the dry forests of the leeward slopes on all the main islands from sea level to about 1970 feet.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Wiliwili is the only native member of Erythrina, a genus of about 130 species worldwide and more or less collectively known as coral trees. Erythrina is in the Pea family or Fabaceae.

Etymology

The generic name Erythrina is from the Greek erythros, red, in reference to the flower color of many 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 1770s. James Cook named the islands after John Montagu (The fourth Earl of Sandwich) for supporting Cook's voyages.

Hawaiian Name:

Wili is to twist, screw or wind. Wiliwili means twist-twist or repeatedly twisted referring to the seed pods that twist to expose brightly colored seeds.

Background Information

These are large trees with a yellow somewhat spiny trunk.

Early Hawaiian Use

Earlier Hawaiians believed that when wiliwili were flowering along the coast, sharks were most likely to bite. [8,10]

Canoe:

Wiliwili, or hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus), was typically used on canoes for the outrigger float (ama). [2,11,12,13,16]

Fishing:

Because the wood was light, it was used for fishing gear containers and would float if a canoe (waʻa) was upset. The wood was also used for net floats. [2,11,12,13]

Lei:

The seeds were used by early Hawaiians to make permanent lei and the flowers for temporary lei. [5,7,11,13]

Medicinal:

Flowers were used for venereal diseases and pounded bark for various genital diseases. [9,10]

Surfing:

The lightweight wiliwili wood was the preferred choice for surfboards (papa heʻe nalu), either long boards (alaia) or short boards (olo). [13] Since larger trees may have been difficult to find to be suitable for the surfboards, they were probably reserved for the nobility, including the chiefs. [1]

Modern Use

Today, seeds and flowers are still used to make beautiful lei. [5,7]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 78, 96
[2] "Arts and Crafts of Hawaii" by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter H. Buck), pages 38, 275.
[3] http://www.hear.org/egw/ [Accessed 1/23/09]
[4] "The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands" by J.F. Rock, page 191.

[5] "Hawaiian Seed Lei Making--Step-by-Step Guide" by Laurie Shimizu Ide, pages 56-57.

[6] "Environmental Hawaiʻi," a monthly newletter, Volume 20, Number 4, October 2009, page 12.

[7] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 150-155.

[8] "Islands in a Far Sea--The Fate of Nature in Hawaiʻi" by John L. Culliney, page 161.

[9] "Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value, by D.M. Kaʻaiakamanu & J.K. Akina, page 74.

[10] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 91.

[11] "Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture" by Donald D. Kilolani Mitchell, pages 102, 163, 167.

[12] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, pages 458, 460.

[13] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, pages 81, 82, 125.

[14] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, page 152.

[15] "How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden" by Kenneth M. Nagata, page "Wiliwili."

[16] "Ethnobotany of Hawaii" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 128.

leafMore Links

Plant Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Back to Plant List

Plant List

Other Nursery Profiles for Erythrina sandwicensis