Sida fallax

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • ʻIlima

Hawaiian Names

  • Ilima

Common Names

  • ʻIlima


  • Anoda ovata
  • Sida diellii
  • Sida ledyardii
  • Sida meyeniana
  • Sida nelsonii
  • Sida sandwicensis
  • Sida sertum

Names with Unknown Sources

  • Prostrate ʻilima
  • Yellow ʻilima
  • ʻIlima papa

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Sprawling Shrub
  • Shrub

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Dwarf, Less than 2
  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6
  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10

Mature Size, Width

ʻIlima has a 4 to 8-foot spread.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Erosion Control
  • Ground Cover
  • Hedges
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

ʻIlima papa, more properly called ʻilima kū kahakai, [9] grows well with and complements pāʻūohiʻiaka (Jacquemontia ovalifolia). Use black cinder to contrast gray green foliage and yellowish orange flowers in the landscape for ʻilima. An excellent groundcover for open, sunny and/or windy coastal areas.

Tall bush forms of ʻilima may used as an attractive screen or accent plant.

ʻIlima do not do well near automated sprinkler systems or with heavy watering since fungal rot and/or black sooty mold will affect its health and vigor, and often spells death for the plant. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Source of Fragrance

  • No Fragrance

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Light Orange
  • Orange
  • Red
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

ʻIlima flowers can be bright yellow, orangish yellow, light orange, rich orange, dull or rusty red, or a rare greenish color. Some forms are dark maroon at the base (calyx). Others have red or maroon centers.

Early Hawaiians recognized different flower colors and gave them distinctive names as hā lenalena, hālenalena, kuakea, or ʻilima ōkea (light yellow); melemele (strong yellow); ʻilima lei (deep gold); ʻilima ʻulaʻula (bronze red); and ʻilima kolī kukui (rusty red). [4,6,9,14]

Blooming Period

  • Year Round

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Flowers may be in groups or solitary and are fully opened by noon, lasting a day. [3,15]

ʻIlima will attract native pollinators such as yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus spp.) in the area.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves of ʻilima range from one-half inch to over 5 inches long and can be glabrous (without hairs) to very fuzzy.

Names were give ʻilima with distinctive features on Niʻihau such as ʻilima laukahi for those with a single leaf and ʻilima lau liʻi liʻi for those with small leaves. [2]

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Leaf color differs by the variety and location, ranging from light to dark green to gray or bluish silver.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Plants prone to ants, scale, aphids, mealy bugs, red spider mites and slugs. If ʻilima is given too much shade and moisture, it may get rust or black sooty mold.

leaf Growth Requirements


An application of a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every 6 months. Foliar feed monthly with kelp or fish emulsion, or a water-soluble fertilizer with a dilution of one half to one third of recommended strength has proven beneficial. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

The leaves may become somewhat chlorotic (yellow colored) or splotched with yellow. ʻIlima responds well to an application of a fertilizer with micronutrients. [16]

Pruning Information

Pruning ʻilima encourages new growth, but avoid pruning severely. To induce continous flowering spent flowers can be removed but can be tedious work.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Some taller upland forms do not appear to be as drought tolerant as do prostrate (ʻilima papa) and lower bush forms and may require more watering. Excess water can produce lush foliage, but fewer flowers. Always monitor watering and hold off and treat if fungal diseases begin to appear.

As a general guideline for watering: Upland forms, moderate; Beach forms, light. [16]

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun

Additional Lighting Information

ʻIlima may be subject to rust or black sooty mold if plants receive too much shade and moisture.

The prostrate form, ʻilima papa, does best in full sun, becoming lanky in shaded conditions.

Spacing Information

Should be spaced 3 to 6 ft. apart depending on origin and plant form (i.e. prostrate, bush).


  • Drought
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray
  • Heat


  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Organic
  • Coral


See comments under Additional Water Information.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Niʻihau
  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Kahoʻolawe
  • Hawaiʻi
  • Northwest Islands

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • Less than 150, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 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)
  • 4000 to 4999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)

Additional Habitat Information

ʻIlima is found growing in a number of environments such as rocky or sandy coasts, raised limestone reefs, arid lava fields, dry forest to diverse mesic forest from sea level to about 6,500 feet.

In the Northwest Islands, ʻilima is naturally found on Midway (Pihemanu) and Nīhoa (Moku Manu).

Pollen samples from Laysan (Kauō) indicate that "ʻilima bushes" once were found on this island in the past. [7]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻIlima (Sida fallax) belongs to the Mallow family (Malvaceae) and the only species in the genus native to the Hawaiian Archipelago. However, Sida rhombifolia may be either native or naturalized. There are several other naturalized species in the islands.

ʻIlima are one of the predominant shrubs on Nīhoa and the flower buds provide food for the critically endangered Nihoa finch (Telespiza ultima), an endemic Hawaiian honeycreeper restricted to the island. [13]


The generic name Sida is from a Greek name used by Theophrastus (c.371-c.287 B.C.E.) in his writings for both a water-liy (Nymphaea alba) and a pomegranate tree. [11]

The specific epithet fallax is from fallacis, deceitful or false. [11]

Hawaiian Names:

The early Hawaiians recognized and named wild and cultivated forms of ʻilima.

The wild types include:

     ʻilima kū kahakai, a flat beach form;

     ʻilima kū kula or ʻilima kū kala, very tall form;

     ʻilima kuahiwi, "from the mountains;"

     ʻilima kū kahakai, a kind of ʻilima creeping on sand on which beach dodder (kaunaʻoa) grows (Lit., ʻilima     standing on beach);

     ʻilima ōkea (light yellow flowers); and

     ʻilima makanaʻā, a plant with smaller flowers, medium height found on old lava in Kaʻū known. [4,6,12,14]

The cultivated, or domesticated, forms were:

     ʻilima ʻāpiki or ʻilima lei (and possibly ʻilima mamo), a tall spreading bush with golden flowers;

     ʻilima kū kala, (Lit., ʻilima standing on plains). Also same as ʻilima papa;

     ʻilima kolikukui or ʻilima kolī kukui (Lit., kukui candle or torch), an Oʻahu cultivated form with bronze red  flowers. [4,6,12,14]

Background Information

In 1923, the Territorial Legislature chose ʻilima as the official flower for the island of Oʻahu.

Early Hawaiian Use

House Construction & Furnishings:

Early uses of ʻilima included sleeping house construction, slats in building houses, rough baskets, and as a covering on pebbled floors in houses under floor mats and sleeping mats. [6,12]

Food (Cooking):

ʻIlima kū kala along with other plant materials were placed over hot stones in the imu. The food to be cooked was then placed on the ʻilima to prevent it from being burned by the heated stones. [4]


ʻIlima may have been the only plant cultivated by early Hawaiians just for the flowers to be used for lei. [1] Lei ʻilima pua were treasured by early Hawaiians and given specific names based on their flowers, as well as leaves. (See above "Additional Flower Color Information," "Additional Plant Texture Information" and "Etymology").

Lei ʻilima were fashioned for the head (lei poʻo) or the neck (lei ʻāʻī), with the latter comprising a thousand flowers! [4]

Originally, lei ʻilima, or the royal lei, was reserved for royalty since they looked very much like the yellow feather lei worn only by aliʻi. [5]


ʻIlima was called kanaka makaʻi, literally meaning "good man." [6] Early Hawaiians gave babies the juice of the flowers (pua ʻilima) as a mild laxative but apparently does not have an effect on adults. The number of buds were used was according to the age of the child. The buds were chewed by the mother before given to her baby. [4,6,8,14]

Wild ʻilima sap with warm sea water was used medicinally as enemas (hahano) for adults. [4] ʻIlima flowers mixed with other plants were also used for "womb troubles." When a person felt weak, the bark of the roots were mixed with other plants and pounded together, strained and drunk as a tonic. Additionally, the root bark mixed with the flowers was used for asthma. [8]

Modern Use

Queen Emma Kalanikaumakaamano Kaleleonālani Naʻea Rooke (1836-1885) enjoyed lei ʻilima over all other lei. [9]

Flowers often used for modern lei making in combination with materials or just as one prized lei. Laurie Shimizu Ide states that it takes "about 700 blossoms for a single lei, kui pololei, straight pattern." [3] Though lei ʻilima was associated with royalty at one time, today anyone can wear this very special and beautiful lei. [5] When lei ʻilima is seen on the wearer, its striking beauty certainly commands attention! Fruits of the non-native maʻo (Abutilon grandifolium), when green and soft, are used with lei ʻilima, one fruit at each end of the lei; or the pale-green, cap-like calyx of the ʻilima flower is used. [14]

Flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish with food. [Rick Barboza, Hui Kū Maoli Ola] The flavor is mildly sweet to tasteless but with a refreshing, clean after taste. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

The mele (song) "Aloha Oʻahu" by Clarence Kinney opening verse speaks of the beautiful ʻōʻō, a native bird with black, white and yellow feathers:

"Aloha Oʻahu lei ka ʻilima Kohu manu ʻōʻō hulu melemele."

Translated: "Beloved is Oʻahu with the ʻilima lei Like the ʻōʻō it's golden plumage." [10]

ʻIlima is still found in the Hawaiian coastal lowlands and up into the forests. Sadly, though, the Oʻahu ʻōʻō (Moho apicalis) and it's relatives, the Hawaiian honeyeaters, are now all extinct.

Additional References

[1] "Natural History of Nihoa and Necker Islands" by Neal L. Evenhuis, pages 66-67.
[2] "A Chronicle and Flora of Niihau" by Juliet Rice Wichman and Harold St. John, page 110.

[3] "Hawaiʻi's Flower Leis" by Laurie Shimizu Ide, pages 36-37.

[4] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 17, 78, 103.

[5] "Lei Aloha--Flower Lei of Hawaiʻi with Instructions" by Marsha Heckman, pages 32-33.

[6] "Native Planters in Old Hawaii--Their Life, Lore, & Environment" by E. S. Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy, pages 227-228, 239-240.


[8] "Native Plants Used as Medicine in Hawaii" by Beatrice Krauss, pages 9-10.

[9] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 30-31.

[10] Hawaiian Hula Archives [Accessed 7/23/10]

[11] "The Names of Plants" by David Gledhill, pages 163, 352.

[12] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 553.

[13] "The Hawaiian Honeycreeper: Drapandidae" by H. Douglas Pratt, pages 20, 133.

[14] Hawaiian Dictionaries online [Accessed 7/31/10]

[15] "Paradisus: Hawaiian Plant Watercolors" by Geraldine King Tam and David J. Mabberley, page 26.

[16] "How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden" by Kenneth M. Nagata, page "ʻIlima."

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