Endemic: Molokini, Kaho’olawe
Description: Short and stocky is the best description for these rare succulents. They have thick leaves that usually cluster towards the top of an even thicker stem. These plants usually branch up from the ground and look more like tiny cactus than Portulaca. They also have a cluster of bright yellow flowers that sit in a cup of leaves which rises up from a long tube above the plant, they’re really cool looking. By far these are one of the most exotic looking plant specimens from Hawai’i if not the world.
Distribution: These plants are fairly rare and are restricted to coastal rocky areas with only three known populations on Molokini island (which is that tiny horse-shoe shaped island off the coast of Maui), Pu’ukoa’e islet, and Kaho’olawe.
Landscape Use and Care: This type of ‘ihi look great anywhere, they even look good in pots for the lanai. In landscapes, put them around larger landscape stones as accents. They like well drained soil and full sun. The best way to water these plants if they don’t have well drained soil is to soak the ground and not water again until the soil is dried out. Few pests bother this plant, but if you begin to notice tiny black spots on the leaves just spray with any type of plant pesticide and you should notice the new leaves being spot free.
Additional Information: There are a total of four known native species of Portulaca in Hawaii which came from two distinct colonizations. One of these includes both P. villosa and P. sclerocarpa which are two endemic and very rare species, they very similar in appearance with both having linear succulent leaves and pink and white flower petals. The other colonization comes from P. lutea which is an indigenous species with yellow flowers and rounder leaves. It is believed that P. molokiniensis evolved from this plant to become its own endemic species.