Euphorbia celastroides var. celastroides

leaf Main Plant Information






  • celastroides

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Koko
  • Kōkōmālei
  • ʻAkoko
  • ʻEkoko

Hawaiian Names

  • Akoko
  • Ekoko
  • Koko
  • Kokomalei


  • Chamaesyce celastroides
  • Chamaesyce celastroides var. haupuana
  • Chamaesyce celastroides var. humbertii
  • Chamaesyce celastroides var. nematopoda
  • Euphorbia celastroides
  • Euphorbia celastroides var. haupuana
  • Euphorbia celastroides var. humbertii
  • Euphorbia celastroides var. kealiana
  • Euphorbia celastroides var. nematopoda
  • Euphorbia multiformis var. celastroides

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Dwarf, Less than 2
  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6
  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10

Mature Size, Width

The Nīhoa plants grow to about six feet wide. [1] This more or less accurate for this variety with some cultivated plants growing to four or more high and eight or more wide in cutivation. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Hedges

Additional Landscape Use Information

Though this variety is seldom seen in cultivation, it is a beautiful addition to the landscape and rather easy to grow. [Jameison Martinez, Honolulu Zoo]

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers

Additional Fragrance Information

The pungent flowers of ʻakoko have been described as smelling like bad breath. [Kim Starr, United States Geological Survey-Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Brownish
  • Greenish-White

Additional Flower Color Information

The flowers are diminutive and not attractive.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

While the flowers are not showy, the bright pinkish to red fruits can be uniquely appealing en masse.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

The leaves are of this variety are glabrous (without hairs) and narrow. [1]

Leaf Colors

  • Gray / Silverish
  • Light Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Red spider mites and mealybugs can be problematic if not controlled.

leaf Growth Requirements

Pruning Information

Generally not necessary to prune plants except to remove dead branches and leaves for a cleaner appearance in the landscape. A milky, sticky latex naturally oozes from wounds.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun


  • Drought
  • Wind

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Niʻihau
  • Kauaʻi
  • Northwest Islands

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

No data available.

Additional Habitat Information

This variety is found on Kauaʻi, Niʻihau, and Nīhoa. On Nīhoa it is a common component of the vegetation found on ledges and grassy slopes. [1,2]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻAkoko belong to the Spurge or Euphorbia family (Euphorbiaceae). The genus has recently been chnged from Chamaesyce to Euphorbia.

There are seventeen native species of ʻakoko (Euphorbia spp.)--all of which are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. A number of ʻakoko are either vulnerable, rare or endangered, with two considered extinct. Several have beautiful foliage and range in size from very prostrate sub-shrubs such as Euphorbia degeneri to Euphorbia olowaluana, which are nearly 30-foot trees--perhaps the tallest in the entire genus of 250 species worldwide!

Another native member in Euphorbiaceae is poʻolā (Claoxylon sandwicense). Some well known non-native relatives are the Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), kukui (Aleurites moluccana), poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), cassava (Manihot esculenta), and the Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) from which latex comes.


The former generic name Chamaesyce is derived from the Greek chamai, on the ground, and sykon, fig, perhaps in reference to the low habit of most species and the fig-like apperance of the capsules.

The current genus is Euphorbia, and is classically supposed to have been named for Euphorbus, a physician to the king of Mauretania in the first century A.D. (C.E.).

The specific epithet celastroides means "resembling Celastrus," a genus of shrubs and vines commonly known as staff vines, staff trees or bittersweet.

Hawaiian Names:

The name ʻakoko comes from the Hawaiian word koko for blood. They get their name from the red, or blood-colored, seed capsules appearing as drops of blood on the plant. [3,4]

Background Information

The eight varieties are of Euphorbia celastroides are found from coastal sites to high elevation (over 5900 feet) mesic forests:

  • var. amplectens is a variable upland plant found on all the main islands.
  • var. celastroides is from low elevations on Nīhoa, Niʻihau, and Kauaʻi. On Nīhoa, this variety forms dense stands alone or mixed with pōpolo (Solanum nelsonii) and ʻilima (Sida fallax). The majority of the seabird Christmas shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis) that breed on Nīhoa, nest in ʻakoko thickets or the tufts of the grass kāwelu (Eragrostis variabilis). [6]
  • var. hanapepensis is from high elevations on Kauaʻi.
  • var. kaenana is a rare and endangered beach plant found among the boulders and restricted to Kaʻena, Oʻahu. [7]
  • var. laehiensis is an endangered ʻakoko found at low elevations on Lānaʻi and East Maui near Manawainui.
  • var. lorifolia, given a vulernable status, is a small tree found at high elevations on Maui and rare on Lānaʻi.
  • var. stokesii is a beach form from Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Kahoʻolawe. This variety is easily seen growing with other native plants in the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Kīlauea Lighthouse on Kauaʻi.
  • var. tomentella is from the Waiʻanae Mts., Oʻahu and presumed extinct.

Leaves of some species turn red when the plant is overly stressed.

This ʻakoko (Euphorbia celastroides) is the by far the most variable and widespread of all the Hawaiian Chamaesyce. The erect capsules (fruits) distinguish them from other species, except C. herbstii and C. rockii, which have distinctively larger fruits.

Common and widespread on Nīhoa, the variety celastroides is sometimes found growing together with ʻilima (Sida fallax) and pōpolo (Solanum nelsonii). Alone, or combined with tufts of kāwelu (Eragrostis variabilis), this ʻakoko provides some of the major nesting colonies of the seabird Christmas shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis) on Nīhoa. [1]

On Niʻihau in the 1850's this variety, celastroides, was the first of the eight varieties of Euphorbia celastroides to be found and described by Europeans.

Additional References

[1] "Natural History of Nihoa and Necker islands" by Neal L. Evenhuis & Lucius G. Eldredge, pages 57-58, 60.

[2] "Photosynthesis in Tree Form Euphorbia Species from Hawaiian Rainforest Sites" by Robert Pearcy & John Troughton, page 1055.

[3] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice Krauss, page 138.

[4] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 516.



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