Solanum nelsonii

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Pōpolo
  • ʻĀkia

Hawaiian Names

  • Akia
  • Popolo

Common Names

  • Nelson's horsenettle


  • Solanum laysanense

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

At Risk

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Partially Woody / Shrub-like
  • Sprawling Shrub

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Dwarf, Less than 2
  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6

Mature Size, Width

Depending on the form and origin, pōpolo has a spread from 2 to 6 foot wide.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Ground Cover
  • Hedges
  • Specimen Plant
  • Trellis or Fence Climber

Additional Landscape Use Information

Outplant with a nematicide to prevent root-knot nematodes. Pōpolo growth habits vary with the origin of the plants from a prostrate groundcover (Moʻomomi, Molokaʻi) to small shrubs (Midway) about three feet tall. [2] Therefore it is wise to inquire about the source or type of popolo for a particular use in landscaping.

Pōpolo does well in cement, clay or terra cotta pots with very good drainage and optimal sunlight. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

There is also an example of this species of pōpolo being grown as an upright plant on a small trellis or "tomato basket" at Maui Nui Gardens, Maui. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Light Purple
  • Purple
  • White

Additional Flower Color Information

Pōpolo flowers are white-tinged lavender to pale or medium purple with S-shaped yellow anthers flushed purple. [1]

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

After flowering the fruits will turn green, mottled with purple or red, before maturing to blackish purple or red [Nīhoa var.] pea to marble-sized berries. [1,2]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine

Additional Plant Texture Information

Pōpolo leaves are 1 to over 2 inches long and usually pubescent with star-shaped (stellate) hairs. [1] These hairs can easily be seen by using a magnifying glass.

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

The thick round leaves can be from a blue green found on plants from Midway (Pihemanu) to golden or brownish green on those from Maui Nui (Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Maui). [Forest & Kim Starr, United States Geological Survey-Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit]

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Pōpolo is prone to leave miners, black twig borers, ants, scale, aphids, mealy bugs, white flies, thrips and mites. Mice will occasionally eat fruits.

leaf Growth Requirements


An application of a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements is beneficial every six months. For mature plants, 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. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Pōpolo does not require any trimming. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Once pōpolo is well established, water only when its dry.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun


  • Drought
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray
  • Heat


  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Coral

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Pōpolo grows in coastal sites in coral rubble to pure sand. It is likely extinct on Kure (Kānemilohaʻi), Laysan (Kauō), Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Maui and Hawaiʻi, but has been reintroduced into some of these locations. [1; Forest & Kim Starr, United States Geological Survey-Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit]

The only sizeable populations on the main islands are found from Moʻomomi to ʻĪlio Point on the northwest coast of Molokaʻi. It is one of the more common native plant species on Nīhoa. [1]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Pōpolo (Solanum nelsonii) is a member of Solanaceae or the Nightshade family.

There are four species of Solanum native to the Hawaiian Achipelago: one questionably indigenous species, glossy nightshade (S. americanum), with juicy edible fruits; and three endemics, pōpolo kū mai (S. incompletum), pōpolo (S. nelsonii), and pōpolo ʻaiakeakua (S. sandwicense), all of which do not have edible fruits.

Other native members of the Nighshade family include and the indigenous ʻōhelo kai (Lycium sandwicense) and four species of ʻaiea in the endemic genus Nothocestrum.

Some edible family favorites are tomato, potato, eggplant, cape gooseberry or pohā, tomatillo, and green and chile peppers.

However, as the family name implies, this group also has some of the deadliest of all plants with sinister names as Apple of Sodom, Angel's trumpet, Porcupine tomato, Thorn apple, Devil's fig, Devil's apple, and Five-Minute plant. Other kin containing toxic chemicals are mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium), and tobacco (Nicotiana spp.). But the "Queen of Toxins," and one of our planets deadliest, is Belladonna (Atropa belladonna), which possess tropane alkaloids. It also goes by the names Devil's berries, Death Cherries, or Deadly nightshade. Then, there are some merely grown for their beautiful flowers like the garden favorites petunias, and the spectacular Golden challice vine (Solandra maxima).


The Latin generic name Solanum is derived from solor or solatus, comforter, for some plants in this genus that were used medically, specifically S. nigrum, once used to treat epilepsy.

The specific epithet, nelsonii, is named on behalf of David Nelson, a botanist who traveled with Captain Cook on his third voyage of discovery in 1779 and collected more than 130 plant specimens from Mauna Loa, Hawaiʻi Island. [1]

Hawaiian Names:

All four native species share the name pōpolo, which refers to the plant itself.

ʻĀkia is a Niʻihau name and is shared by native Wikstroemia spp.

Background Information

This is another "rather common" example of the extreme variation within a single species, likely to encompass several species or varieties in this single species.

Modern Use

This variable shrub is being used in restoration projects in the state, such as a Kaʻena Point, Oʻahu with prostrate form.

Additional References

[1] "Natural History of Nihoa and Necker Islands" by Neal L. Evenhuis, pages 67-68.

[2] "Islands in a Far Sea-The Fate of Nature in Hawaiʻi" by John L. Culliney, page 147.


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