Koai‘a (Acacia koaia)

Hawaiian name: Koai‘a (Koai‘e)
Botanical name: Acacia koaia
Family: Fabacae (Pea Family)
Status: Endemic
Where found: All main islands except Ni‘ihau and Kaho‘olowe
Water/Light: Full sun, dry
Elevation range: 100’ to 3,500’
Height: 15 to 25 feet, with a 20 foot spread

Photo courtesy of Jupiter Nielsen

Notes: Koa's relative, koai‘a, once grew in the lowlands of most Hawaiian Islands. Koai‘a is usually a better choice for lowland landscapes over koa because of its smaller stature and natural resistance to pests. The dense reddish brown wood is harder than koa and was used by early Hawaiians to create short and long spears, fish lures, shark hooks and paddles. A yellow kapa dye can be made using the flowers. Medicinally, the crushed leaves were mixed with other plants and used in a steam bath to treat skin disorders. Koai‘a is drought and wind tolerant.

‘Ōlelo Noeau [M. K. PUKUI]: E hu‘e mai ‘oe i ke koai‘e o Makawao!
Translation: Try uprooting the koai‘e tree of Makawao!
Meaning: A boast from a strong native lad of Makawao, Maui saying, “I dare you to tackle me.”

Photo: Starr

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A Few Native Hawaiian Plants from the MNBG Collection