Scientific Name: Dodonaea viscosa
Indigenous: All HI. Except Kahoolawe
Description: A dense shrub (4-8 ft.) with small green leaves and tiny flowers that develop into star shaped papery seed capsules. These plants are mostly dioecious meaning that they’re usually separate male and female flowered plants, rarely they can be hermaphroditic having both flower types on the same plant. However, the seed capsules that everyone loves for lei making and plant color only comes from the female flowers. These seed capsules vary in color from cream to yellow, green, pink all the way to deep dark maroon-red.
Distribution: ‘A’ali’i is an indigenous plant with a range that starts in the dry coastal lowland areas where it was once the most dominant shrub and up into the wetter mesic forests, on all the main islands except for Kahoʻolawe (where it most likely occurred in the past and presently it is being out planted there), and then dominant again in the upper dry forest and sub-alpine dry forests of Maui and Hawaiʻi.
Cultural Uses: The seed capsules are highly valued for used in lei weaving, and the red capsules are used for making a red dye. The beautiful wood of ʻaʻaliʻi is very hard and is used for making smaller hand tools and weapons.
Landscape Uses and Care: This plant does best in full sun with well drained soil and minimal watering. Once planted and there are signs of new growth water can be cut back to once or twice every week. Looks great as an accent plant around large boulders, as specimen plants or even as a hedge, it is also very wind and drought resistant. We use this plant quite often in our restoration work especially on slopes and stream banks, the ʻaʻaliʻi have pretty deep tap roots that act like structural pillars for slope support plus they’re tough plants that need practically no care once in the ground.
Extra Info: In Hawaiʻi there are tons of varieties of this plant but all are classified as the same indigenous species, yet on every island, in every climate zone or elevation zone the plants will look different in some slight way from each other. It is definitely clear that more work needs to be done on the classification of this species. Other names for this plant include: ʻaʻaliʻi ku makani, ʻaʻaliʻi ku ma kua or kumakani.Aalii