Hawaiian Names with Diacritics
- Forest gardenia
- Hawaiian gardenia
Endangered Species Status
Plant Form / Growth Habit
Mature Size, Height (in feet)
- Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
- Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
- Tree, Small, 15 to 30
Mature Size, Width
Nāʻū has a canopy spread of 10 to 15+ foot spread with a height to width ratio of 1:5:1.
The few remaining mature wild specimens (Kānepuʻu, Lānaʻi; Nānākuli, Oʻahu) have a wider spread of 20 or more feet and decades old. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]
Long lived (Greater than 5 years)
- Provides Shade
- Specimen Plant
Additional Landscape Use Information
Fortunately, nāʻū is easy to grow and care for in the landscape and not too particular about soil conditions.
As a container plant use at least a 15 gallon tub and add generous amounts of lava cinder with potting soil mix at about a 1:1 ratio. Cinders will ensure good drainage and add weight to the tub to avoid tipping over.
Source of Fragrance
Additional Fragrance Information
The very fragrant gardenia smell has a hint of coconut oil. [Rick Barboza, Hui Kū Maoli Ola]
When several flowers are in bloom at the same time, the air is filled with their wonderful scent!
Plant Produces Flowers
Additional Flower Color Information
The charming porcelain-white flowers are much smaller than the flamboyant introduced gardenias, but no less fragrant.
- Year Round
Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information
In the wild, flowering and fruiting varies among populations.* On Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island, nāʻū blooms from October to December. On Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, nāʻū blooms primarily in the spring months of March, April and May, with sporadic blooming in December and July. 
Cultivated plants seem to flower more or less continuously year round with brief or sporadic rest periods. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]
Some nāʻū shrubs or trees will regularly and consistently fruit, while others are reluctant to do so. Following flowering, dark green fruits in the productive plants will eventually reach about the size of a golf ball or smaller. The fruits will remain green for several months. Just before ripening the green disappears and the fruit turn a yellowish to tan color and are semi mushy or soft to the feel. Inside are numberous rock-hard whitish seeds encased in a bright orange-yellow pulp.
*It should be noted that some of these wild popuations may not currently exist since the initial report. 
Additional Plant Texture Information
Nāʻū leaves are under an inch to over 4 inches long.
- Dark Green
- Medium Green
Additional Leaf Color Information
Leaves are shiny.
Additional Pest & Disease Information
Nāʻū is prone to ants, scale, mealybugs, thrips, red spider mites and aphids. Black twig borers may cause minor to major damage.
Nāʻū respond well to fertilizers, but avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which may cause luxuriant growth but fewer flowers. Use 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.
Nāʻū appreciate frequent applications of iron chelate and fertilizers for acid loving plants (e.g. Miracid by Miracle-Gro). Apply at half or third strength according to directions on the label for gardenias. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]
Prune off dead twigs and branches as needed for a desired landscape appearance.
Additional Water Information
When nāʻū is well established, water once a month during drought-like conditions. Otherwise, watering should be kept minimal.
Mulch to help maintain moisture in soil and reduce need for watering.
Soil must be well drained
- Full sun
Additional Lighting Information
Nāʻū require full sun for good flower production.
Plants should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart for use as a hedge. To showcase specimens, space plants 10 to 15 feet apart.
Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)
- 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
Additional Habitat Information
Gardenia brighamii is extremely rare and near to extinction throughout its native habitat. This species was originally thought to inhabit all eight main islands.  Nāʻū has been recorded from Oʻahu (Waiʻanae Mountains and Nuʻuanu Valley in the southeastern Koʻolau Mountains), West Molokaʻi, Lāna`i (most of them at Kānepuʻu), West Maui (Olowalu), and the island of Hawaiʻi (Puʻuwaʻwa`a in North Kona).# 
Naturally occurring trees of the species are known to be extant only on Lānaʻi, where a number of trees survive, and in Nānākuli Valley in the southern Waiʻanae Mountains, where a single living tree is known in the northern branch of Nānākuli Valley which was found in 2001.# Two other G. brighamii trees discovered in the southern branch of Nānākuli Valley in 1987 died years ago. [Joel Lau, Botanist]
* Extinct on Molokaʻi, Maui and Hawaiʻi Island. 
# Though there have been conservation outplantings on Oʻahu (Nānākuli Valley) there is the only a single naturally remaining tree in the wild. The tree is estimated to be from 20-25 feet tall and decades old. [Joel Lau, Botanist; Bruce Koebele, Kaʻala Farms; David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]
Nāʻū or nānū (Gardenia brighamii) is one of several members of the Coffee family (Rubiaceae) native to the Hawaiian islands.
The featured species and the two other endemic gardenias, G. mannii of Oʻahu, and G. remyi from Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi, Maui and Hawaiʻi Island (Hilo and Puna districts), are all federally listed as endangered species or candidates for such.
The generic name Gardenia is named in honor of Alexander Garden (1730-1791) of Charleston, South Carolina who was a botanist, zoologist and physician, and correspondent to John Ellis, zoologist, and Carolus Linnaeus, who devised the classification of genus/species we presently used today.
The specific epithet brighamii, is named in honor of William Tufts Brigham (1841-1926), geologist, botanist and the first direction of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.
Early Hawaiian Use
The intense orange-yellow colored pulp of the fruit was also used to dye to kapa a rich yellow by early Hawaiians for the aliʻi. This vibrant color used for kapa was called nāʻū or nānū, after the plant itself. 
The beautiful fragrant flowers were strung into lei by early Hawaiians. [2,3]
Kapa anvils or kua kuku on which kapa was beaten in the second-stage process was made from the wood of nāʻū. [2,4]
Today, dyes are still made from the fruit of nāʻū turn out to be a beautiful, bright golden yellow which does not fade when dried. [Kaʻiulani de Silva, Kapa Mau]
 "Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Gardenia" by Dr. Loyal Mehroff, pages 7-8, 9-10.
 "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 62, 66, 77.
 "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 96-97.
 "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 52.
 Plant Extinction Program of Hawaiʻi http://pepphi.org [Accessed on 11/18/13]
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Other Nursery Profiles for Gardenia brighamii