Pisonia umbellifera

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Pāpala
  • Pāpala kēpau

Hawaiian Names

  • Papala
  • Papala kepau

Common Names

  • Catchbirdtree
  • Umbrella catchbird tree
  • Umbrella catchbirdtree

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

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

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

Mature Size, Width

Pāpala kēpau is known to have a 20 or more foot spread.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • 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

Additional Fragrance Information

Flowers are very fragrant.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Greenish-White
  • Pink

Additional Flower Color Information

Pāpala kēpau produces an abundance of small, very fragrant pinkish-green and white flowers.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves are to over one foot long.

Leaf Colors

  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Leaves are large pseudo-whorled and glossy green.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Pāpala kēpau is prone to attracting ants and sucking pests.

leaf Growth Requirements


For young plants, apply a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every six months. Foliar feed monthly with kelp or fish emulsion, or a water-soluble fertilizer with a dilution of one-half to one-third of the recommended strength. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

When plant is well established, water twice a month or more during dry season.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Trees do best in full sun but can tolerate shade.


  • Drought


  • Cinder
  • Organic


Pāpala kēpau seed pods can be a nuisance because of the sticky sap which will entrap birds, lizards and insects as well as stick to clothing and shoes.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)

Additional Habitat Information

This indigenous pāpala kēpau is occasionally to common locally in wet to moist forests, usually in valleys, from 295 to about 2,625 feet.

It has also been known to grow in dry to mesic forests as well. It is common to abundant on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Lānaʻi, and Maui, but apparently has been collected only once on Molokaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Pāpala kēpau belong to the Four-o'clock family or Nyctaginaceae of some 50 species, primarily in tropical America and Pacific Islands.

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."

Other family members native to the Hawaiian Islands are alena (Boerhavia spp.) with two indigenous and one endemic species.

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 specific epithet umbellifera is from the Latin umbelliferum, umbel-bearing or shade carrying, from umbrella (altered from umbell), Latin for parasol, and named for the large leaves of this species. [4]

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]

Early Hawaiian Use

Bird Catching:

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. [1,3]


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).

Other Uses:

The early Hawaiians used an adhesive gum from pāpala kēpau 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] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, pages 84-85.

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

[4] Online Etymology Dictionary [Accessed on 09/30/11]

[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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