Ilex anomala

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Kāwaʻu
  • ʻAiea

Hawaiian Names

  • Aiea
  • Kawau

Common Names

  • Hawaiian holly
  • Hawaiʻi holly


  • Byronia anomala
  • Byronia helleri
  • Byronia sandwicensis
  • Ilex hawaiensis
  • Ilex marquesensis
  • Ilex sandwicensis
  • Polystigma hookeri

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Dwarf, Less than 15
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50

Mature Size, Width

To about 40 feet in the largest specimens.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Hedges
  • Screening

Additional Landscape Use Information

These rather common trees or shrubs in their natural habitat can grow from 15 to about 40 feet tall. Kāwaʻu, rarely seen in cultivation, can be grown at low elevations to at least 300 feet. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Greenish-White
  • White

Additional Flower Color Information

Clusters of white flowers with greenish centers.

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Numerous small blackish purple drupes (fruits) appear after flowering.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium
  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

The 2 to 6 inch blunt-tipped leaves have distinctive webbing on either side of the yellowish midrib. [2]

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

The upper side of leaves are glossy medium to dark green while underside are lighter green or paler and not glossy. [2]

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Scale can be a mildly to severely problematic.

leaf Growth Requirements


Apply 13-13-13 slow release fertilize every six months. Foliar feeding in early morning with a water-soluble or an organic fertilizer (e.g. kelp or fish emulsion) at one-third to one-fourth the recommended strength monthly has proved beneficial. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Kāwaʻu at lower elevations seem to do best in low light situations. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]


  • Wind


  • Cinder
  • Organic

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)

Additional Habitat Information

Kāwaʻu is generally found from about 1970 to over 4600 feet in mesic to wet forests, sometimes in open bogs in the Hawaiian Islands. This indigenous species is also found in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands only on Nuku Hiwa. [3]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Kāwaʻu (Ilex anomala) is the only indigenous member of the Holly family (Aquifoliaceae) native to the Hawaiian Islands. This holly, like many of Hawaiʻiʻs native plants, is completely thornless. This is a varaible species.

A noteworthy Ilex relative is the Englsh or European holly (Ilex aquifolium) commonly used in wreaths around Christmas time. [5,6] Another is Yerba mate (I. paraguariensis) also known as Paraguay tea. Yerba mate is grown commercially in South America, where it is native, as well as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Hawaiʻi. The leaves and twigs are steeped in hot, not boiling, water for a socially traditional hot tea beverage shared among friends. This species is scarcely naturalized on Oʻahu at least in Mānoa and Waiāhole Valleys. [4]


The generic name Ilex is the Latin name for the Evergreen or Holm oak tree (Quercus ilex).

The Latin specific epithet anomala means extraordinary or abnormal.

Hawaiian names:

Kāwaʻu means "to scrape" or "to detain, delay, keep back." The affiliation with the tree is obscure. The name Kāwaʻu is also shared by other native plants such as heaʻe (Zanthoxylum dipetalum), pūkiawe, and uhiuhi (Mezoneuron kavaiense).

The name ʻAiea, of Kauaʻi origin, should not be confused with the unrelated genus Nothocestrum also referred to by the name ʻaiea.

The Hawaiian vernacular name was spelled kaawau by Hillebrand [11] and as kāʻawaʻu by another source. [10]

Background Information

In its natural habitat, the underside leaves of kāwaʻu is a great place to look for the tiny endemic Happy face spiders or nananana makakiʻi (Theridion grallator). [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

The fruit is an important food for ʻōmaʻo or Hawaiian thrush (Myadestes obscurus). [7]

The Marquesan and Tahitian trees are nearly indistinguishable form kāwau (I. anomala). [10]

Early Hawaiian Use

Early Hawaiians used the whitish or grayish-yellow hard wood for kapa (tapa) anvils called kua kuku, on which the second-stage kapa making process was done on. [1,9,10]

The wood was also used for trimmings canoes (waʻa) and for saddle trees. [10]

Modern Use

In post-contact times, some saddle trees were made from the wood of kāwaʻu. [2]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 62.

[2] "A Hiker's Guide to Trailside Plants in Hawaiʻi" by John B. Hall, pages 188-189.

[3] Flora of the Marquesas Islands [accessed 1/27/09]

[4] [accessed 1/27/09]

[5] ChristStory Christmas Symbols Holly Page [Accessed 1/27/09]

[6] Christmas Holly Trees [Accessed 1/27/09]

[7] "Hawai'i's Plants and Animals--Biological Sketches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park" by Charles P. Stone & Linda W. Pratt, page 185.

[8] Hawaiian Dictionaries online [Accessed 8/20/11]

[9] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 52.

[10] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, page 200.

[11] "Flora of the Hawaiian Islands: a description of their phanerograms and vascular cryptogams" by William F. Hillebrand, page 78.



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