Gouania vitifolia

leaf Main Plant Information





Common Names

  • Oʻahu chewstick


  • Gouania bishopii
  • Gouania hawaiiensis

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

Federally Listed

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Partially Woody / Shrub-like
  • Vine/Liana

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10

Mature Size, Width

Over 10 feet.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Screening
  • Trellis or Fence Climber

Additional Landscape Use Information

Oʻahu chewstick has great potential for landscape use and are rather easy to grow and maintain in the landscape.

Though the plants seem to be in constant flower in cultivation, seed capsules are occasionally produced but seed is rarely viable. However, they do root from cuttings [Bruce Koebele, Ka'ala Farms] and soil layering. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Because of their vining nature it is good to provide other plants, a fence or trellis as an espalier. Both koai'a (Acacia koaia) and kauila (Colubrina oppositifolia) have been successfully used as support trees. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

These somewhat woody lianas can grow as prostrate shrubs or as high climbers up trees. [4]

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers

Additional Fragrance Information

The tiny inconspicuous flowers have an unpleasant scent that attracts small insects such as alien fruit flies, that may act as pollinators. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Greenish-White

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Cultivated plants seem to be nearly in constant bloom or with short periods of rest before blooming again. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves somwhat resemble grape leaves, especially with the tendrils. (See "Special Notes and Information" below)

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Whiteflies and spider mites can be major pests. Ants, scale, mealybugs, thrips, Hibiscus snow scale, black twig-borer are also listed as other pests.

leaf Growth Requirements


A balanced slow release fertilizer such as 13-13-13 with minor elements twice a year appears to be beneficial for this vine. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Should be maintained by pruning in the landscape. Can be generously pruned with no ill effects on the plant.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

It seems to prefer full sun and grows sparsely with too much shade. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Cinder
  • Organic

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Oʻahu
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

No data available.

Additional Habitat Information

This extremely rare gouania is found on O'ahu (Wai'anae Mts.), West Maui (extinct), and Ka'ū on Hawaiʻi Island in dry to mesic gulches.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

There between 50-70 Gouania species in tropical to sub-tropical regions of the world in the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae).

There are three endemic species, which have the common names of Hairy-fruit chewstick (G. hillebrandii), Smooth-fruit chewstick (G. meyenii), and Oʻahu chewstick (G. vitifolia). All rare and endangered species.

The common name given for this vining species is Oʻahu Chewstick. [2] It is interesting that this species (G. vitifolia) which is a woody vine or liana is in the same genus as our two other native gouanias, which are shrub-like. The flowers and fruit, though, look characteristically similar.

Other native species in the same family are the indigenous shrub ʻānapanapa (Colubrina asiatica), and two endemic trees, both called kauila or kawila, Alphitonia ponderosa and Colubrina oppositifolia.


The genus Gouania is named for Antoine Gouan (1733-1821), a professor and naturalist at Mountpellier, France.

The specific epithet vitifolia means "grape-like foliage," named for its grape-like foliage and spiraled "watch spring" tendrils. [3]

Background Information

Once thought to be extinct, this endemic liana was rediscovered in 1990 is now extremely rare and reduced to about 15 individual plants in two populations on Oʻahu and one population on Hawaiʻi Island (2003). A 2005 estimate by the state (DOFAW) gives the wild population of only five individuals known. [2]


Early Hawaiian Use

No Hawaiian names or use are known for any of the native gouanias.

Modern Use

Though no known use by the early Hawaiians or in modern times, other species outside of the Hawaiian Islands have the fitting name "chew-stick" (chewstick). A very similar species, the Urban chewstick, or white root (Gouania lupuloides), is used widely by local people from Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, and into Central and South America as a tooth cleaner. A stick about the thickness of the small finger, with bark removed, is chewed thus strengthening the gums. The stick produces a slightly bitter, yet aromatic, soap-like froth (saponins) when chewed. The softened stick is then used by rubbing the teeth much like a toothbrush. [3]

In times past, dried and powdered forms were exported to Europe and the United States. Jamaicans still use chewstick for medicine and in a mouthwash called "Chew-Dent." They also use it in making ginger beer, a stronger tasting ginger ale. Chewstick is also used in brewing beer as a hops substitute and is perhaps why some Jamaican beers have a distinctive taste. [3]

Additional References

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gouania_vitifolia [accessed 12/20/08]

[2] http://www.state.hi.us/dlnr/dofaw/cwcs/files/Flora%20fact%20sheets/Gou_vit%20plant%20NTBG_W.pdf [accessed 12/20/08]

[3] "Florida Ethnobotany" by Daniel F. Austin and P. Narodny Honychurch, pp. 329-331.

[4] "Flora Hawaiiensis" by Otto Degener, Book 5, Family: 215.




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