Gardenia brighamii

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Nāʻū
  • Nānū

Hawaiian Names

  • Nanu
  • Nau

Common Names

  • Forest gardenia

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

Federally Listed

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30

Mature Size, Width

Nāʻū has a canopy spread of 10 to 15+ foot spread with a height to width ratio of 1:5:1.

The few remaining mature wild specimens (Kānepuʻu, Lānaʻi; Nānākuli, Oʻahu) have a wider spread of 20 or more feet and decades old. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Hedges
  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

Fortunately, nāʻū is easy to grow and care for in the landscape and not too particular about soil conditions.

As a container plant use at least a 15 gallon tub and add generous amounts of lava cinder with potting soil mix at about a 1:1 ratio. Cinders will ensure good drainage and add weight to the tub to avoid tipping over.

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers

Additional Fragrance Information

The very fragrant gardenia smell has a hint of coconut oil. [Rick Barboza, Hui Kū Maoli Ola]

When several flowers are in bloom at the same time, the air is filled with their wonderful scent!

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • White

Additional Flower Color Information

The charming porcelain-white flowers are much smaller than the flamboyant introduced gardenias, but no less fragrant.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • July
  • October
  • November
  • December

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

In the wild, flowering and fruiting varies among populations.* On Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island, nāʻū blooms from October to December. On Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, nāʻū blooms primarily in the spring months of March, April and May, with sporadic blooming in December and July. [1]

Cultivated plants seem to flower more or less continuously year round with brief or sporadic rest periods. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Some nāʻū shrubs or trees will regularly and consistently fruit, while others are reluctant to do so. Following flowering, dark green fruits in the productive plants will eventually reach about the size of a golf ball or smaller. The fruits will remain green for several months. Just before ripening the green disappears and the fruit turn a yellowish to tan color and are semi mushy or soft to the feel. Inside are numberous rock-hard whitish seeds encased in a bright orange-yellow pulp.

*It should be noted that some of these wild popuations may not currently exist since the initial report. [1]

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

Nāʻū leaves are under an inch to over 4 inches long.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Leaves are shiny.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Nāʻū is prone to ants, scale, mealybugs, thrips, red spider mites and aphids. Black twig borers may cause minor to major damage.

leaf Growth Requirements


Nāʻū respond well to fertilizers, but avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which may cause luxuriant growth but fewer flowers. Use a balanced slow release fertilize with minor elements every six 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.

Nāʻū appreciate frequent applications of iron chelate and fertilizers for acid loving plants (e.g. Miracid by Miracle-Gro). Apply at half or third strength according to directions on the label for gardenias. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Prune off dead twigs and branches as needed for a desired landscape appearance.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

When nāʻū is well established, water once a month during drought-like conditions. Otherwise, watering should be kept minimal.

Mulch to help maintain moisture in soil and reduce need for watering.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun

Additional Lighting Information

Nāʻū require full sun for good flower production.

Spacing Information

Plants should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart for use as a hedge. For specimen plants, space plants 10 to 15 feet apart.


  • Drought
  • Wind


  • Clay
  • Sand
  • Cinder

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)

Additional Habitat Information

Nāʻū is extremely rare and near to extinction in its native habitat. This species was originally thought to inhabit all eight main islands. This species is a dry forest species found on the leeward sides of the islands with very few wild examples remaining, most of them at Kānepuʻu, Lānaʻi. [1]

Though there have been conservation outplantings, on Oʻahu there now may be only a single naturally remaining tree in the wild in Nānākuli Valley. The tree is estimated to be from 20-25 feet tall and decades old. [Joel Lau, Botanist; Bruce Koebele, Kaʻala Farms; David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Nāʻū or nānū (Gardenia brighamii) is one of several members of the Coffee family (Rubiaceae) native to Hawaii. The featured species and the two other endemic gardenias, G. mannii of Oʻahu, and G. remyi from Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi, Maui and Hawaiʻi Island (Hilo and Puna districts), are all federally listed as endangered species or candidates for such.


The generic name Gardenia is named in honor of Alexander Garden (1730-1791) of Charleston, South Carolina who was a botanist, zoologist and physician, and corresspondent to John Ellis, zoologist, and Carolus Linnaeus, who devised the classification of genus/species we presently used today.

The specific epithet brighamii, is named in honor of William Tufts Brigham (1841-1926), geologist, botanist and the first direction of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.

Early Hawaiian Use

The beautiful fragrant flowers were strung into lei by early Hawaiians. [2,3]

Kapa anvils or kua kuku on which kapa was beaten in the second-stage process was made from the wood of nāʻū. [2,4]

The intense orange-yellow colored pulp of the fruit was also used to dye to kapa a rich yellow by early Hawaiians for the aliʻi. This vibrant color used for kapa was called nāʻū or nānū, after the plant itself. [1]

Modern Use

Today, dyes are still made from the fruit of nāʻū turn out to be a beautiful, bright golden yellow which does not fade when dried. [Kaʻiulani de Silva, Kapa Mau]

Additional References

[1] "Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Gardenia" by Dr. Loyal Mehroff, pages 7-8, 9-10.
[2] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 62, 66, 77.

[3] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 96-97.

[4] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 52.

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