Scientific Name: Wikstroemia uva-ursi
Endemic: Kaua’i, O’ahu, Maui, Molokai
Description: Dense shrubs that either grow prostrate or sprawl up to 3-4 ft. tall. They have small oval shaped leaves, greenish-blue in color that is attached to braches which are reddish brown. When in bloom, numerous clusters of tiny yellow flowers develop which eventually turn into small orange or red fruits about ½-3/4 inch in diameter. The flowers have a very musky but distinct scent to them and can be easily smelt from a distance usually more so in the early evening.
Distribution: This endemic plant can easily be seen in numerous landscapes throughout Honolulu and the rest of the State. This plant, along with naupaka (Scaevola sericea), pohinahina (Vitex rotundifolia), and pualoalo (Hibiscus arnottianus) are among the most used native plants in Hawaiian landscapes today. Although, in the wild it is quite rare, found only in dry, open, often disturbed, lowland or coastal habitats on Kaua’i, O’ahu Molokai, and Maui where it is also reported as far inland as ‘Iao Valley.
Cultural Uses: Many members of this genus Wikstroemia were used as a narcotic to catch fish. The bark, roots and leaves were pounded and mixed with bait and then thrown in the water to feed the fish; upon ingesting, the fish would swim in a “drunken” state which made them easier to scoop up with a net or to spear. The mashed plant parts are also used in Hawaiian spell casting and sorcery.
Landscape Use and Care: This plant has proven itself over the years as one of the best landscape plants for Hawaii’s environment, not just among native species but even non-native. They’re extremely hardy, requiring very little water and grow slow enough so that you don’t need to maintain them as much once they reach their desired height. Few pests if any bother ‘akia and their bright colors when in fruit make this plant even more attractive than normal. If you need a low hedge about 3 ft tall or a colorful accent plant that is easily shaped, then ‘akia is for you.
Extra info: People often ask if the attractive fruit are poisonous and if they should worry about kids or pets eating them. From what I’ve heard it’s the stem, leaves and roots that make the fish narcotic not so much the attractive fruit and it only affects cold-blooded animals anyway. I’ve also seen birds eat the fruits daily with no ill effects and the fruit taste so bad that any human who put it in their mouth would immediately spit it out, you can trust me on that, its terrible.Akia