In The Garden
Plant drugs fish to make catch easier
Hawaiian Fish Poisoning Plant
Description: Shrubs 3 to 4 feet tall with small compound leaves, tiny purple-white pea flowers (about an inch wide) that emerge above the stem lined up on a stalk. Eventually they turn into small seed pods. These plants are short-lived, lasting only one to two years. They do form many seeds, which germinate before the original plant dies, so the original may yield four or five.
This plant is found all over the world, in Africa, Asia, Australia and even other parts of the Pacific. In Hawaii it's a Polynesian introduction that is found on all the main islands in extremely dry locations such as lava fields, rocky slopes, dry ridges and coastal areas.
Cultural uses: As its name implies, 'auhuhu is used to intoxicate fish in closed bodies of water (such as tidal pools) to make them easier to catch. The plant contains a chemical called tephrosin (derived from the plant's botanical name) which drugs certain cold-blooded animals. Various parts of the 'auhuhu would be pounded, then mixed with chum for the fish to eat or placed in holes along the reef, causing the fish to become drugged -- easier to scoop up or spear.
Landscape use: This plant would be perfect for xeriscaping -- its short stature and cute flowers are a bonus. It does best in full sun and watering is minimal once the plant is established. Few pests are known to bother this plant.
And as I said earlier, it does reproduce fairly quickly, so don't be surprised to find several plants around your original. Don't pull them out -- go fishing! Just make sure to catch only what you can eat and save the rest for stocking the future.
Other information: Other Hawaiian names for this plant are ahuhu, 'auhola and hola. Also, the word 'auhuhu pa'ina, which means "a time so dry that even the 'auhuhu plant became brittle" is another word for the summer months known as Makali'i.
co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 259-6580 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org