Wikstroemia phillyreifolia

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Kauhi
  • ʻĀkia

Hawaiian Names

  • Akia
  • Kauhi

Common Names

  • Hawaiʻi false ʻōhelo


  • Diplomorpha buxifolia
  • Diplomorpha phillyreifolia
  • Wikstroemia buxifolia
  • Wikstroemia uva-ursi var. buxifolia

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Sprawling Shrub
  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6
  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Dwarf, Less than 15

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Yellow

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Fuit is red.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

leaf Growth Requirements

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Cinder
  • Organic

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Hawaiʻi

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)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

This ʻākia is endemic to Hawaiʻi Island from sea level to over 7500 feet. It is found occasiona or common, sometimes a dominant element of the vegetation, in open dry forest or shrubland, on bare ʻaʻā lava or sometimes in mesic forest.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

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


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

The specific epithet phillyreifolia is derived from the Latin Phillyrea, a genus in the Olive family (Oleaceae), and folius, leaves, referring to the leaves resembling Phillyrea spp.

Hawaiian Names:

Botanist William Hillebrand (1888) states the Hawaiian names for the genus are "akia" or "akea." Hillebrand (1888) also 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 realionship is uncertain.

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

Kauhi is an alternate name for this species.

Background Information

Wikstroemia phillyreifolia is very closely allied to W. pulcherrima.

Early Hawaiian Use

ʻĀkia bark was used as a source of fiber material for ropes. [2] 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 [6] also used as a type of ceremonial firewood in ʻanaʻana magic (Kamakau 1991). [5]

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?). [6]

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. [2]

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. [1,3]  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. [2] 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.

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

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

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

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




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