Scientific Name: Alyxia stellata
Endemic: All HI except Kaho’olawe and Ni’ihau
Description: Shrubby lianas that often twine like a vine but are more shrub-like in appearance. The leaves are highly variable in size, shape, and color ranging from dark to fairly light green. The flowers, which are very small, number 3-5 in a cluster and range from light green to creamy yellow. Once these flowers are pollinated they form green fruits that turn dark purple to black when ripe and are very glossy. Sometimes they segment into two or even three in-line fruits.
Distribution: Maile is an endemic plant which means that it is only found in Hawai’i and no where else in the world. Today it is still fairly common in dry to mesic forests on all the main islands except Kaho’olawe and Ni’ihau, where they probably occurred in the past.
Cultural Uses: The new growth on maile is used to make very beautiful and highly fragrant lei. All parts of the plant contain a chemical called coumarin, which is the substance that gives this plant its fragrance (Wagner, et.al, 1999). Now days most of the “maile” lei that are sold come from the Cooke Islands and are not the actual maile that is native to Hawai’i. This is probably good because the Hawaiian maile is not as abundant today as in the past and grows very slow compared to the plants from the Cooke Islands.
Landscape Use and Care: Plant Maile in the ground as an accent around rocks or at the base of larger trees. It does best in partial shade but can tolerate full sun. Daily watering is fine if you have well drained soil, if not only water again if the soil appears dried out, too much watering can rot and kill the plant. Once the plant has a lot of new growth only water when necessary. Sometimes ants bring in scales that appear as white or brown bumps on the leaves and stems. If you can get rid of the ants the rest of the pests should be easier to deal with using store bought pesticides or by simply rubbing them off with your fingers.
Additional Info: Hawaiians recognized the highly variable shapes of Maile and developed names to describe them, some names are: Maile ha’i wale–brittle Maile; Maile lau li’i–small leaved Maile; Maile lau nui–large leaved Maile; Maile kaluhea–sweet Maile and Maile pakaha–blunt leaved Maile.Maile