Pisonia sandwicensis

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Kaulu
  • Pāpala
  • Pāpala kēpau
  • Āulu

Hawaiian Names

  • Aulu
  • Kaulu
  • Papala
  • Papala kepau


  • Rockia sandwicensis

Did You Know…?

Even though the fruits of pāpala kēpau are extremely sticky and the adhesive strong enough to trap small birds, when touching the fruits, no sticky residue is left on a personʻs fingers!

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50
  • Tree, Large, Greater than 50

Mature Size, Width

Āulu has a 20-foot width.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Ground Cover
  • Hedges
  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

A fascinating tree with a unique feature not appreciated by everyone. The fruit of pāpala kēpau are sticky and will ensnare small creatures such as birds, lizards & insects. If the immobilized victims cannot free themselves they will eventually succumb to a slow death.

The fruit also readily adhere to pets, farm animals, clothing, shoes, skin, hair and most anything else they come into contact with. Use discretion as to the planting locale and setting as it could become somewhat of a nuisance tree. This is not to paint a negative picture of this wonderfully designed plant. It's "buyer beware."

But, although the fruits are sticky to the touch, they do not leave a sticky film behind on your fingers.

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Brownish
  • White

Additional Flower Color Information

Āulu produce small whitish-brown slightly fragrant flowers.

Blooming Period

  • Summer
  • June
  • July
  • August

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

These trees flower during the summer months from June to August. [2]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

The leaves are large, up to 12 inches long, and can be seen at some distance away in its native habitat.

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

The leaves of āulu are glossy green.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

The trees are prone to aphids and scale.

leaf Growth Requirements

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

When well established, water āulu twice monthly or more during dry season.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)

Additional Habitat Information

Āulu, or kaulu, is endemic and found in dry to mesic forests, rarely in wet gulches, from about 850 to over 3,400 feet. It is often a dominant tree in its habitat.

These beautiful large-leaved trees can grow to about 60 feet tall in their native habitat.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Āulu belong to the Four-o'clock family or Nyctaginaceae. The garden four-o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa) is a non-native relative found in the islands and has been named pua ahiahi, which literally means "late afternoon [becoming evening] flower."

There are five species of Pisonia in the Hawaiian Archipelago, two of which are endemic.


The generic name Pisonia is named for William Piso (ca. 1611-1678), Dutch physician, pharmacist, botanist, and early writer on medicinal plants of Brazil.

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.

Hawaiian Names:

The name pāpala also is used for the native species of Charpentiera.

Hawaiian Dictionaries defines kēpau as "lead, pitch, tar, resin, pewter; gum, as on ripe breadfruit; any sticky juice, as of pāpala." [6]

The name āulu is shared by two other native trees Planchonella [Pouteria] sandwicensis and Sapindus oahuensis.

Kaulu is a Kauaʻi name for this plant.

Early Hawaiian Use

Bird Catching:

Āulu, or pāpala kēpau are truly fascinating plants with a sad, but interesting, cultural history. A sinistral use for the sticky fruit was to trap native birds. [5] The captured victims provided feathers for the strikingly colorful cloaks (capes), helmets, lei, images and kāhili. Birds such as 'ō'ō and mamo were plucked of their few moulting yellow feathers and set free to grow more for the next season. However, this was not the case with the ʻiʻiwi, ʻamakihi and ʻapapane which were totally covered with red- or green-colored feathers and would not have survived the plucking. They were captured, plucked and eaten. [1,4]


The milky sap from pāpala kēpau (Pisonia spp.) was used for cuts. The cooked leaves were used to cure pāʻaoʻao (childhood disease with physical weakening) and for lepo paʻa (constipation). [3]

Other Uses:

The early Hawaiians used an adhesive gum from āulu for repairing bowls. [1]

Additional References

[1] "Arts and Crafts of Hawaii" by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter H. Buck), pages 45, 217-218.
[2] "The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands" by J.F. Rock, page 147.

[3] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, pages 84-85.

[4] "Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture" by Donald D. Kilolani Mitchell, page 93.

[5] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 106.

[6] Hawaiian Dictionaries [Accessed on 10/13/11]

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