Sisyrinchium acre

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Mauʻu hōʻula ʻili
  • Mauʻu lāʻili

Hawaiian Names

  • Mauu houla ili
  • Mauu laili

Common Names

  • Hawaiʻi blue-eyed grass

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

At Risk

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Clumping

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Grass-like, Short, Less than 1
  • Grass-like, Medium, 1 to 2.5

Life Span

Short lived (Less than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent

Additional Landscape Use Information

Grow in well maintained areas as an accent plant. [Ethan Romanchak, Native Nursery, LLC] Though recommended to grow at higher elevations, mauʻu lā'ili can be grown as low as 300 feet in elevation in partial to full sun with well-drained moist soil. They should be planted under or near other plants for added protection. Water weekly until new growth appears and monitor soil moisture and drainage. Plants will regenerate in the area from fallen seed.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Yellow

Blooming Period

  • Spring

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Mauʻu lāʻili flowers in early spring. [Ethan Romanchak, Native Nursery, LLC] The small flowers appear at the end of tall stems in clusters and are short-lived.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine

Additional Plant Texture Information

The narrow leaves are 6 to 15 inches long.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Ants and associated pests should be controlled.

leaf Growth Requirements


An 8-8-8 fertilizer applied every six months or foliar feed monthly is recommended.

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Additional Water Information

Grow in well drained soil with regular watering. [Ethan Romanchak, Native Nursery, LLC]

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun


  • Cinder
  • Organic


Best grown in landscape at 2000+ feet in elevation. Probably does not tolerate salt spray or low elevation heat. [Ethan Romanchak, Native Nursery, LLC]

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 4000 to 4999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)

Additional Habitat Information

Mauʻu lāʻili is naturally found on East Maui and Hawaiʻi Island in open, dry to boggy or wet locations in subalpine shrubland from about 5,000 to over 9,600 feet.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Many of the 80 or so species in the genus Sisyrinchium generally have blue or bluish-purple flowers and the thin leaves resemble grasses.

Despite the common name "blue-eyed grass," mauʻu lā'ili (S. acre) has neither blue eyes (flowers) nor is it a grass. Instead, it has yellow flowers and is the sole native Hawaiian member in the Iris family (Iridaceae).


The generic name Sisyrinchium is derived from sisyrinchion, the Greek name for the barbary nut, a species of iris (Gynandriris sisyrinchium [syn. Iris sisyrinchium]).

The Latin specific epithet acre, acorn, means sharp or acrid.

Hawaiian Name:

Mauʻu lāʻili loosely translates to mean "grass that turns skin red," from the fact that the juice will burn and blister a person's skin in the sun. [4]

Background Information

Mauʻu lā'ili (Sisyrinchium acre) is threatened with loosing its purity as a species (S. exile) from tropical America was accidentally introduced several years ago and has hydridized with the native species.

Early Hawaiian Use


The burnt ashes of mauʻu lā'ili were used medicinally for treating kane hāʻukeʻuke (tinea, a fungal disease). [2]

Dyes (Tatoos):

Red juice was extracted from the leaves and fruits and used to darken tattoos producing hues of navy blue to black. The tattoos (uhi), though, were apparently temporary and lasted only about a year. [1]

Additional References

[1] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi--Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 128.

[2] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 74.

[3] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, pages 232-233.

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

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