In the Garden

Rick Barboza


Solanum sandwicense

Description: A large shrub or small tree up to 12 feet tall with light green to almost yellowish foliage. Each leaf is rough in appearance, with somewhat ruffled lobes on the margins. A light brown pubescence, which is heavier on younger leaves, covers both the underside and top of the leaf. White flowers hang facing down with a purple stripe on the center of each flower petal. Once pollinated, they develop into shiny black berries.

Popolo'aiakeakua is available at the Home Depot for about $12.

Distribution: Extremely rare. This endemic plant is only known to exist in the mesic forests of Oahu and Kauai; however, its natural population on Oahu is now considered to be extinct. Luckily, seeds were harvested before the last plant died, so now there are a few plants left in cultivation (as seen here and for sale at the Home Depot) and a handful planted back into the wild.

Cultural uses: There are no known cultural uses for this particular plant. However, there is another more commonly known popolo plant (Solanum americanum) that is highly valued for its medicinal uses. I wouldn't use this plant in any manner as you would the other popolo, since the translation of popolo'aiakeakua literally means "the popolo eaten by the god," and that doesn't sound like a good thing if you're human.

Landscape uses and care: This is definitely a plant to have if you are into natives. It's not often that you can have a naturally extinct plant in your garden that has a look both prehistoric and exotic. Few pests bother this plant, and it requires little watering once established. Plant it in full sun or partial shade and enjoy a true living Hawaiian jewel.

Rick Barboza co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery. Contact him at 259-6580 or e-mail

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar


E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --