gallery

Wikstroemia oahuensis

leaf Main Plant Information

Genus

Wikstroemia

Species

oahuensis

Varieties

  • oahuensis
  • palustris

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Aoaoa
  • Kauhi
  • ʻĀkia

Hawaiian Names

  • Akia
  • Aoaoa
  • Kauhi

Common Names

  • Oʻahu fasle ʻōhelo

Synonyms

  • Diplomorpha elongata
  • Diplomorpha oahuensis
  • Wikstroemia basicordata
  • Wikstroemia bicornuta ??? xlanaiensis
  • Wikstroemia degeneri
  • Wikstroemia elongata
  • Wikstroemia eugenioides
  • Wikstroemia foetida var. glabra
  • Wikstroemia foetida var.? oahuensis
  • Wikstroemia furcata var. palustris
  • Wikstroemia haleakalensis
  • Wikstroemia isae
  • Wikstroemia lanaiensis
  • Wikstroemia leptantha
  • Wikstroemia macrosiphon
  • Wikstroemia palustris
  • Wikstroemia recurva
  • Wikstroemia sellingii
  • Wikstroemia vacciniifolia

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status

Endemic

Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

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
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30

Mature Size, Width

ʻĀkia is known to grow to over 10 feet in width.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Ground Cover
  • Hedges
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

An attractive feature in the landscape. As with many native plants, this beautiful plant can be a prostrate shrub or a small tree. It is not difficult to grow in urban gardens. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Plant Produces Flowers

Yes

leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Green
  • Light Orange
  • Orange
  • Yellow

Blooming Period

  • Sporadic
  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Some ʻākia have male and female parts on separate flowers (unisexual), while other plants have both male and female parts (perfect) on the same flower.

Fruits are variable in color and shape, and can range from greenish-white and white or from partially orange to greenish- or whitish-orange. [Joel Lau, Botanist; David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

ʻĀkia leaves are occasionally tinged lilac or crimson.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

These plants are prone to ants, scale, aphids, red spider mites, and mealy bugs.

Chickens are known to eat the fruit and to scratch at the roots.

leaf Growth Requirements

Fertilizer

Apply a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every 6 months. Drench and/or foliar feed* monthly with a 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]

*Drench feeding is applying a liquid fertilizer directly to the soil of the potted or outplanted plants in the garden. Foliar feeding involves spraying a liquid fertilizer at low doses covering the foliage.

Water Requirements

  • Dry
  • Moist

Additional Water Information

When well established, water once or twice a month in dry periods.

Soil must be well drained

Yes

Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

ʻĀkia prefer full sun, but can grow, flower, and fruit in partial sun as well.

Tolerances

  • Drought
  • Wind

Soils

  • Cinder
  • Organic

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)

Additional Habitat Information

This ʻākia grows in diverse hala forests, mesic to wet forests, diverse mesic forests and in bogs and on ridges and rocky ledges from about 330 to around 4600 feet.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻĀkia belong to Daphne family (Thymelaeaceae). There are a dozen endemic species in the Hawaiian Islands.

The common name "false ohelo" is attributed to the fact that the fruits of ʻākia resemble the orange or red ʻōhelo (Vaccinium spp.) berries.

Etymology

The genus is named for Johan Emanuel Wikström (1789-1856), a Swedish botanist and author of several papers on Thymelaeaceae.

The specific epithet oahuensis is named for the island of Oʻahu and the Latin suffix -ensis, from or belonging to, in reference to this island as part of its native range.

The varietal name palustris is from the Latin palustris, of swampy ground, in reference to its bog habitat on Kauaʻi.

Hawaiian Names:

Botanist William Hillebrand (1888) mentions that the Hawaiian names for the genus are "akia" or "akea." Hillebrand (1888) states the root of the word may be in the Fijian name for the genus mati and that the native name for the genus in Tahiti is ovao. [5]

The name ʻākia is also shared by Solanum nelsonii, a small native shrub in the Solanaceae or Nightshade family.

ʻĀkia also means "to ferment; very sour, as poi. ʻAi ʻākia, sour poi." [4] Any name relationship is uncertain.

Distinctive varieties are named lau nui, mānalo, and pehu. [4]

Aoaoa and kauhi are alternate names for this species.

One reference uses asasa as a common name for this species. [6]

Background Information

ʻĀkia is sometimes referred to as the "fish poison plant."

This is species is variable and possibly can or should be divided into other species or subspecies. Several species based have been noted by Joel Lau, Botanist in Hawaiʻi.

Early Hawaiian Use

ʻĀkia bark was used as a source of fiber material for ropes. [3] This particular species of ʻākia (Wikstroemia oahuensis) produces one of the strongest of all Hawaiian fibers which was used by early Hawaiians to make ropes and braids. Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaiʻi, B. Peterson (1990) states that “Species of Wikestroemia have furnished one of the strongest Hawaiian fibers, used in making ropes and braids. It is also said to have been used in making kapa. Measurements made from fibers of branches desiccated for 6 months demonstrated that the density of Wikestroemia fibers was about the same as that of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) and ramie (Boehmeria nivea)."

The wood, likely from larger species, was used as ‘auamo (carrying sticks) and [4] also used as a type of ceremonial firewood in ʻanaʻana magic (Kamakau 1991). [3]

Medicinally, the sap of ʻākia (Wikestroemia spp.) mixed with niu (coconut) and kō kea (white sugarcane) was taken internally with ‘uala (sweet potato) as a purgative. The leaves and leaf buds were mixed with the bark of ‘ōhi‘a ‘ai (Syzygium malaccense) and ‘uhaloa root (Waltheria indica), niu, kō ‘aina kea (a sugarcane variety). Plant material was pounded, water added, strained, and the liquid taken internally for wai‘ōpua pa‘a (leukorrhea) and nae kūlou (shortness of breath?). [7]

Roots, bark, leaves and stems were used as a poison to stupefy fish called hola which were then gathered by the early Hawaiians. The plant parts were crushed, placed in a porous container, and sunk in salt water pools. The fish were safe to eat because ʻākia is not known to be poisonous to warm-blooded creatures by means of this fishing method. [3]

So is ʻĀkia Poisonous or Not?

Alkaloids can be extracted from various parts of the plants, and ʻākia has an old reputation for being poisonous. Reputable sources mention that ʻākia was used in old Hawaiʻi as a death penalty for those who broke kapu. The guilty party was forced to drink the juice of ʻākia, causing seizure and death. [1,2]  Botanist Otto Degener (1945) mentions that criminals were executed by means of a deadly drink prepared from roots and bark of ʻākia together with parts of other plants. However, another reputable reference says that 'no parts of ʻākia are poisonous to mammals,' likely including humans. [3] However, it is possible that not all species of Wikestroemia are poisonous, judging by experiments where ʻākia has been shown to be nontoxic. Handy and Handy (1972:239) distinguished two types of ʻākia: a bitter ʻākia (ʻākia ʻawa) and a ‘mild’ ʻākia (ʻākia manalo). The bitter ʻākia is described as a shrub that bears orange-red fruits, a description that matches that of most Hawaiian Wikestroemia species. Of this type they write that decoctions of the bark and roots are deadly poisonous and were used for killing and suicide. The other mild type of ʻākia, of which no description is given, is described as not being poisonous but rather whose bark and leaves were used as a narcotic. [5]

Either way, it is probably best to side with caution and avoid ingesting any parts of ʻākia until sound information is available.

Modern Use

The fruits can be used in lei.

Ethanol extracts from this species has shown to possess anti-tumor properties.

Regarding the toxicity or lack thereof, How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden notes this:

"In Hawaii, only the toxicity of Wikstroemia pulcherrima Skottb. has been studied extensively by Dr. Frank Tabrath. W. pulcherrima has caused mice to go to sleep. The toxicity of W. pulcherrima varies from high to zero toxicity even in the same plant at different times. Many people have eaten the berries for years without ill effects." [8] (See subheading above "Early Hawaiian Use")

Additional References

[1] "Amy Greenwell Garden Ethnobotanical Guide to Native Hawaiian Plants & Polynesian Introduced Plants" by Noa Kekuewa Lincoln, page 10.

[2] "Hawaiian Natural History, and Evolution" by Alan C. Ziegler, pages 197-198.

[3] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 616.

[4] http://www.wehewehe.org [Accessed on 09/15/11]

[5] "Auwahi: Ethnobotany of a Hawaiian Dryland Forest" by A.C. Medeiros, C.F. Davenport & C.G. Chimera, pages 19-20.

[6] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, page 230.

[7] "Hawaiian Ethnobotany Online Database" http://data.bishopmuseum.org/ethnobotanydb [Accessed 1/30/13]

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

leafMore Links

Plant Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Back to Plant List

Plant List

Other Nursery Profiles for Wikstroemia oahuensis