Kokia drynarioides

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Hau hele ʻula
  • Kokiʻo

Hawaiian Names

  • Hau hele ula
  • Kokio

Common Names

  • Hawaiian cotton tree
  • Hawaiʻi tree cotton


  • Gossypium drynarioides
  • Hibiscus drynarioides
  • Kokia rockii

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

Federally Listed

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50

Mature Size, Width

15 to over 20 feet.

Samuel Lamb notes in "Native Trees & Shrubs of the Hawaiian Islands" that one large tree was 27 ft. tall and had a crown spread of 23 ft.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

Fortunately kokiʻo is relatively easy to grow under cultivation. Despite being naturally found at elevations of 1500 to 2600 feet, kokiʻo can be successfully cultivated and will flower at much lower elevations (e.g. Waimea Valley and Pearl City, Oʻahu). [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi] Kokiʻo are very drought resistant after the first year from outplanting. Trees may lose many or all of the leaves during dry periods. [1]

Source of Fragrance

  • No Fragrance

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Red

Additional Flower Color Information

Kokiʻo is one of the most spectacular of all the flowering plants in the Hawaiian Islands, with head-turning, eye-catching, brilliant red flowers. The petals resemble a twisted hibiscus flower in a spiral form with a curved staminal column in the center, perfectly designed to match the curved bill of some honeycreepers. Each flower contains copious amounts of nectar and pollen.* The bright red floral flag signals to all to "come and partake!" If the guest accepts the generous offer, it will be rewarded with a high energy, protein-rich meal. Meanwhile, the kokiʻo flowers will be pollinated, ensuring viable seeds for future generations.


* Chuck Chimera, botanist on Maui, notes that "the nectar of Kokia [spp.] is very sweet and tasty." [9]

Blooming Period

  • Sporadic
  • Spring
  • Summer

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Flowering may occur at any time of the year, but spring, summer and early fall are the blooming periods for this species in cultivation. Seeds mature in summer or fall. A five-lobed seed capsule with three bracts is produced after flowering. Isolated kokiʻo trees are capable of self-pollinating and producing viable seed. [1] The golden brown to reddish brown seeds are fuzzy and somewhat resemble our native cotton, maʻo (Gossypium tomentosum), seeds and at one time was even placed in the same genus.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium
  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

The slightly leathery leaves are deciduous during the dry season to conserve energy, but sometimes remain on the tree (persistent). Leaves range from 3 to 8 inches long and wide.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

The attractive maple-shaped leaves are medium to dark green with red veins.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Rats will often eat kokiʻo seeds before they fall to the ground. Aphids, mealy bugs or leafhoppers may severely deform younger foliage. Ants are often the culprit in farming so these pests should be controlled. White flies and spider mites are additional pests on leaves of younger plants. Chinese rose beetles may also chew its leaves but its damage is usually less severe than the damage it inflicts on several other native plants.

leaf Growth Requirements


A monthly foliar feeding and applications of 8-8-8 every three to six months or a 13-13-13 balanced fertilizer with minor elements every six months. Work fertilizer into soil but do not apply near base of the tree.

Pruning Information

Although minor pruning does not appear to harm kokiʻo, due to its ideal natural form, there should be little or no reason to prune the trees. If pruning is necessary it should be done sparingly. Allow room to showcase these awesome trees.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Kokiʻo prefer big, infrequent waterings rather than light, daily showers. Trees may drop leaves in very dry periods.The soil must be very well drained. Once is kokiʻo established the plants should be watered sparingly. [6]

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Kokiʻo does best in full sun but will tolerate partial sun. Provide young trees with some shading for a week or two after initially planted out.


  • Drought


  • Cinder


Kokiʻo bark is soft and easily damaged by gas trimmers (weed wackers). A barrier around the base of the tree will help to protect the trunk. A large weed-free area reserved for cinder or mulch under the tree canopy should keep trimmers from getting too close to the trunk. Saplings may loose many of their leaves in the summer but will recover later in the year. Saplings should be planted out when young at about 8" to 12 " tall. Kerin E. Lilleeng-Rosenberger suggests that "it is important that these plants do not become root-bound at any time in their development; this can result in a poor root system."

Kokiʻo are intolerant of constantly wet soil.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)

Additional Habitat Information

Endemic to Hawaiʻi Island, this very rare species is found naturally at Puʻuwaʻawaʻa and Huʻehuʻe in North Kona in lama/kauila forests. Very few trees remain in the wild. A census in 1981 found no more than 20 trees in the wild. By 1993, only three trees were known to exist. [1] In 1998 there were less than ten wild plants in three populations. [2] Very few wild trees exist today.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Kokia is an endemic genus of four spectacular species in the Hibiscus (Malvaceae) family. Three are endangered, Kokia cookei from Molokaʻi, K. drynarioides from Hawaiʻi Island, K. kauaiensis from Kauaʻi, and one is now extinct from Oʻahu (K. lanceolata).


The generic name Kokia is derived from kokiʻo, the Hawaiian vernacular name for these species.

Botanists Otto & Isa Degener notes this regarding the name: "Lewton believes the vernacular name comes from ko-ki, " 'The extremety; the end of the tree; a very high place. The native name of the these trees, kokio, possibly relates to the habitat.' " [8]

The specific epithet drynarioides is derived from the Drynaria, a genus of ferns, and the Latin -oides, resembling.

Hawaiian Name:

Hau is an introduced hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus), perhaps by early Hawaiians. Hau hele ʻula literally means "red traveling hau."

Background Information

The decline of kokiʻo has had a direct affect on other native organisms, such as honeycreepers, which rely on these trees for food. [2,5]

Early Hawaiian Use


The early Hawaiians cultivated this species in Kona. [4]


The flower petals were used to make pink and lavender dyes. [3] Sap from the bark produced a dark red waterproof dye for fishnets. The dual-purpose resinous dye would extend the life of the fishing nets and the red color underwater is nearly invisible to fish, thus the fishermen would catch more.


The spectacular flowers were used for lei. [4]


The bark was also used to cure thrush.

Modern Use

Kokia cookei was saved from total extinction by grafting scions (a shoot with a bud) on a rootstock from either of its two close relatives Kokia drynarioides and K. kauaiensis (Kauaʻi).

With current micropropagation techniques, viable seeds of Kokia cookei have been able to produce a few seedlings with its own roots.

The flowers can be used for a dramatic haku lei (lei poʻo). [4]

The dried woody capsules and bracts can be used in dry flower arrangements.

Additional References

[1] "Recovery Plan for Caesalpinia kavaiense & Kokia drynarioides," pages 6, 11, 18, 19, 21, 22.
[2] (accessed 11/26/08)
[3] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 65.
[4] "Na Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald, page 45
[5] "The Hawaiian Honeycreeper (Drapandidae)" by H. Douglas Pratt, pages 142, 143

[6] "Small Trees for Tropical Landscape" by Fred D. Rauch & Paul R. Weissich, page 64.

[7] "The Names of Plants" by David Gledhill, page 147.

[8] "Flora Hawaiiensis," Book 7 by Otto & Isa Degener Family: 221.

[9] Session with Chuck Chimera at the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaiʻi Conference & Tradeshow, 10/10/13.



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