Hawaiian Names with Diacritics
- Pōpolo kū mai
- Popolo ku mai
- Hawaiian pokeberry
- Hawaiʻi pokeweed
- Native pokeberry
- Phytolacca brachystachys
- Phytolacca brachystacys var. puberulenta
- Phytolacca sandwicensis var. puberulenta
Endangered Species Status
Plant Form / Growth Habit
- Non-Woody, Spreading
Mature Size, Height (in feet)
- Herbaceous, Medium, 1-3
- Herbaceous, Tall, Greater than 3
Mature Size, Width
Based on the few mature plants under cultivation, pōpolo kū mai in the landscape spread more than six to perhaps ten feet or more.
Long lived (Greater than 5 years)
- Ground Cover
Additional Landscape Use Information
Little information is currently present for pōpolo kū mai in the modern landscape. Yet it spread as a low to medium height to only four to six feet under cultivation.
This is a wonderfully promising and great landscape plant for low to mid elevation landscpes.
Plant Produces Flowers
Additional Flower Color Information
While the individual flowers themselves are not dramatic, the flowering/fruiting spike is unique among the native plants with pink, rose or occasionally white flowers and dark purple fruits.
Additional Plant Texture Information
Leaves are oval and can be glabrous (no hairs or fuzz) or puberulent (tiny hairs).
Plants from Maui and Molokaʻi are more densely puberulent along the stem and inflorescense (flowering stem) and were once referred to as var. puberulenta. However, less densely puberulent also occur in the area.
- Light Green
- Medium Green
Additional Pest & Disease Information
Ants, scale, mealybugs, aphids.
Plants can become unruly in confined areas. But, pōpolo kū mai appears to take modest trimming well.
Soil must be well drained
- Partial sun
Additional Lighting Information
Though pōpolo kū mai can grow in sunny open areas, they look their best when provided with some shade.
Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)
- 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
- 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
- 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
Pōpolo kū mai is found in open areas or streambeds in mesic and wet forests from under 400 to nearly 6500 feet on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Maui, and Hawaiʻi.
Phytolacca is a genus of about 25 in the Phytolaccaceae family and found North America, South America, East Asia, New Zealand and one endemic species in the Hawaiian Islands.
The generic name Phytolacca is Greek for plant dye, referring to the sap of the fruit.
The species name sandwicensis refers to the "Sandwich Islands," as the Hawaiian Islands were once called, and named by James Cook on one of his voyages in the 1770s. James Cook named the islands after John Montagu (The fourth Earl of Sandwich) for supporting Cook's voyages.
Pōpolo kū mai is a name also used by another unrelated plant, the very rare native Solanum imcompleteum.
The Hawaiian pokeberry or Pōpolo kū mai, is one of the few truly poisonous native plants to mammals and humans. Birds, however, are unaffected by the toxins and feed on the berries which help in seed dispersal. All parts pf the plants contain alkaloid phytolaccine and other triterpene toxins which impair formation or damage of red blood cells. The toxins also irritate the digestive system and can affect the central nervous system. 
The non-native red inkplant (Phytolacca octandra) is naturalized on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and Maui, and hybridizes with pōpolo kū mai where the two species occur together.
Early Hawaiian Use
Early Hawaiians used the dark purple pōpolo kū mai as a tattoo dye. 
So, given its toxic nature, why would one want to grow pōpolo kū mai in their garden? Well, we might be surprised to learn that many plants we have growing in our own yard, or even inside our homes, are many times more toxic than our native pokeberry. The combination of good knowledge, common sense, and caution are keys with handling any plant that one is unfamiliar with.
That said, pōpolo kū mai are attractive shrubs, especially during flowering and fruiting, and have potential for future landscaping needs. These have recently been seen more in landscapes and introduced by native Hawaiian plant enthusiasts. They appear to grow well from near sea level and lower elevations (at least down to 300 ft.) in Hawaiʻi. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaii]
 "Poisonous Plants of Paradise" by Susan Scott and Craig Thomas, pages 147-148.
 "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 67.
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Other Nursery Profiles for Phytolacca sandwicensis