Euphorbia celastroides var. kaenana

leaf Main Plant Information






  • kaenana

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Koko
  • Kōkōmālei
  • ʻAkoko
  • ʻEkoko

Hawaiian Names

  • Akoko
  • Ekoko
  • Koko
  • Kokomalei


  • Chamaesyce celastroides var. kaenana
  • Chamaesyce celastroides var. niuensis
  • Euphorbia celastroides var. niuensis

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

Federally Listed

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Partially Woody / Shrub-like
  • Sprawling Shrub

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

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

Mature Size, Width

Six feet or more.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Ground Cover
  • Hedges

Additional Landscape Use Information

Though federally endangered, this variety is one of the more "commonly" seen species in cultvation. This underscores an important fact: Preservation can be in the urban landscape.

This ʻakoko can be used as low to medium groundcover or shrub. It does well in large clay or ceramic pots with good draining potting media and in full sun as well as windy locations.

Because of its floral en masse with an unpleasant odor, you may not wish to plant ʻakoko near a window of your home. (See Additional Fragrance Information below)

The lifespan is from 5 to 10 years [6] to two or three decades, and perhaps longer. [8]

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 cyathia (specialized flower clusters) are distinct and are borne on the small side branches.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Summer

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Flowering is year around peaking in the summer months when plants are leafless. [8] While the flowers are not showy, the red fruits can be uniquely appealing en masse. Fruits mature in 3 to 4 weeks when they split to expel (dehiscent) the seeds. [6,8]

The variety kaenana has been observed to flower and fruit throughout the year perhaps in response to precipitation. [5]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Leaf Colors

  • Gray / Silverish
  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Variety kaenana puts out leaves with winter rains but drop off during the summer. [4] In lower elevations, variety kaenana is summer-deciduous loosing their leaves at the height of the dry season; while plants in the higher elevations retain leaves. [8]

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

Spacing Information

This ʻakoko can be grown closer together (4 to 5 feet) for a groundcover or medium height shrub or as accent or showcase plants.


  • Drought
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray
  • Heat


  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Coral

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Oʻahu

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

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

Additional Habitat Information

Variety kaenana is found in dry shrublands, arid tallus slopes near the ocean, and sometimes inland and/or on vertical on cliffs on Oʻahu. [8]

Historically, this variety was once found in Niu Valley in the extreme southern Koʻolau Mountains and at the northwestern end of the Waiʻanae Mountains on Oʻahu. It is now restricted to the western side of Oʻahu in the Kaʻena Point area, Alau Gulch, Waiaʻnae Kai, Kahanahaiki, Kaluakauila, Puaʻakanoa, and Keawaula, where pehaps a few hundred plants remain. [1,3,6,8]

Variety amplectens, a common plant, apparently hybridzes with var. kaenana an endangered species in the inland portion of var. kaenana range in part of Punapōhaku Gulch on the north side of Kahanahaiki Valley in the Mākua Military Reservation. This appears to be a hybrid swarm. [7]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻAkoko (Chamaesyce) belong to the Spurge or Euphorbia family (Euphorbiaceae).

There are sixteen native species of ʻakoko (Chamaesyce 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 Chamaesyce degeneri to Chamaesyce olowaluana, which are nearly 30-foot trees--perhaps the tallest in the entire genus of 250 species worldwide!

The two other native members in Euphorbiaceae are poʻolā (Claoxylon sandwicense) and a native tree euphorbia (Euphorbia haeleeleana). 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.

This ʻakoko (Chamaesyce 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.


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.

The variety kaenana name refers to Kaʻena Point where this species is nearly exclusively found.

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. [2,9]

Additional References

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

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

[3] Hawaii Biodiversity Mapping Program

[4] "Plants and Animals of Kaʻena" [Accessed12/23/09]

[5] Dept. of the Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, Federal Register Vol. 68, No. 116 (June 17, 2003), page 35952.

[6] "Recovery Plan for the Oahu Plants" by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pages 47 & C-6.

[7] U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Chamaesyce celastroides var. kaenana, 5-Year Review Summary and Evaluation, page 5.

[8] "Implementation Plan for Mākua Military Reservation, Island of Oahu 16.5 Taxon Summary: Chamaesyce celastroides var. kaenana." pages 16-33 to 16-34, and Map 16.9.

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



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