In The Garden
‘Akia plant was used as a drug to catch fish
Description: Dense shrubs that either grow prostrate -- lying flat -- or sprawl up to 4 feet tall. They have small, oval greenish-blue leaves attached to branches of reddish brown. When in bloom, many clusters of tiny yellow flowers develop, which eventually turn into small orange or red fruits about 3/4 inch in diameter. The flowers have a musky but distinct scent, easily detected from a distance, especially in early evening.
HUI KU MAOLI OLA
'Akia, a hardy hedge, is available at Home Depot for $5.96, and at other garden stores.
This endemic plant can be seen in landscapes statewide, but especially in Honolulu. Along with naupaka (Scaevola sericea), pohinahina (Vitex rotundifolia) and pualoalo (Hibiscus arnottianus) these are among the most used native plants in Hawaiian landscapes. In the wild, though, it is quite rare, found only in dry, open, often disturbed, lowland or coastal habitats on Kauai, Oahu, Molokai and Maui, where it is reported as far inland as Iao Valley.
Cultural uses: Many members of the genus Wikstroemia were used as a narcotic to catch fish. The bark, roots and leaves were pounded and mixed with bait, then thrown in the water; fish that took the bait would swim in a "drunken" state, allowing them to be easily scooped in a net or speared. 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 our environment, among both native and non-native species. They're extremely hardy, requiring very little water and grow slowly enough so they don't need much maintenance once their desired height is reached. Few pests, if any, bother 'akia, and their bright colors when in fruit make them even more attractive. If you need a low hedge or a colorful accent plant that is easily shaped, then 'akia is for you.
Also: People often ask if the attractive fruit is poisonous and if they should worry about kids or pets eating it. From what I've heard, it's the stem, leaves and roots that make for a fish narcotic, not the fruit; and it only affects coldblooded animals anyway. I've also seen birds eat the fruits daily with no ill effects -- and they taste so bad that any human would immediately spit it out. You can trust me on that, it's terrible.
co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 295-7777 or e-mail Rick.firstname.lastname@example.org