Monday, May 6, 2013


Mamaki (Pipturus albidus)  is a Hawaiian endemic plant occurring on all the main Hawaiian Islands except Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe. It grows in moist to wet forests at elevations ranging from close to sea level to 6,000 feet. It is generally not suited for hot, dry coastal settings, but will grow well in urban landscapes with some shading. 
It will also do well planted in containers in part shade. The red-veined varieties appear to tolerate full sun better than green-leaved varieties. 

Mamaki is a highly variable plant. The leaves are dark-green on the 
top and white to gray underneath; some varieties have reddish veins. It can be considered a shrub or a small tree ranging in height from 6 to 20 feet tall.The mature plant recovers after pruning if no more than one-third is removed.

Plants are usually propagated from seed. The fruit can be ripened in a plastic bag to soften the pulp. Seeds are then removed from the pulp by rubbing the fruits in a strainer under running water. The viable seeds will sink and the fruit pulp and other debris can be poured off. Seeds then need to be dried on a paper towel and stored. Once planted, seedlings will thrive in a well-draining soil in a semi-shaded to shaded location.  In addition they can also be propagated from cuttings.   

In Hawaii dried or fresh mamaki leaves are used to make a tea often drunk by those feeling lethargic. The tea is also reported to help with many internal disorders such as for the stomach, colon, bladder, liver, and bowels.  The fruit is eaten as a laxative and also for stomach, colon and digestive problems. Infused leaves can be used in treatment for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver problems, and bladder problems. In some people mamaki can cause mild agitation or insomnia.

Mamaki is the primary food source for caterpillars of the native Kamehameha butterfly. Planting this shrub in the garden will provide a healthy, invigorating tea for the gardener and food for the butterfly.

Photos by Forest and Kim Starr