Along our north east shores of Oahu, Naupaka Kahakai is a common plant to see both in private gardens and in beach parks. It is one plant that can grow happily right next to the beach with all of the sand and salt winds that are there. Because it is so tough, it is also starting to show up in middle strip plantings of highways over the last few decades.
|Naupaka Kahakai on the coast.|
Naupaka is native to Hawaii but is also native throughout tropical and subtropical Pacific and Indian ocean coasts. The white, marble sized fruit containing one seed, is light, like styrofoam, which disperses by floating in water. The fruit and flowers can be seen in the summer and fall time. It has a curious looking flower that looks like a half flower. It is white but will sometimes have some purple streaking. In Hawaii we have several native cousins of Naupaka that live in the upland forests and have purple fruit. The Naupaka Kuahiwi also has a half flower and there are various versions of an old Hawaiian story about the two Naupaka; Naupaka Kahakai from the beach and Naupaka Kuahiwi from the mountain representing separate lovers. They each have half of the flower that has been separated rather like a modern lovers heart locket.
Naupaka can be grown from cuttings although I usually have grown it from seed. I remove the outer fruit and soak the seed for 24 hours. They sprout quite readily and once the plants are established they need minimal water or feeding. They like full sun and well drained soil. They can grow up to several feet tall but in the wild usually stay in lower clumps. They do have naturally a very wide sprawling growth so think about this before you plant them. In some places, like Florida and Bermuda, the introduced Naupaka has become invasive and taken over areas usually covered up by their own native plants.
Some years ago, I planted four baby Naupaka plants up the end of my driveway near the road. It was an open area subject to salt winds. They did fabulous there. Too fabulous! They got watered by a neighbors sprinkler and were so super healthy that I had to be trimming them back from the driveway all the time. This included keeping an eye on the lower branches as they started growing new roots where they touched the soil. After about a year I removed three of the plants, and after another year. I gave up and killed off the last as it was too hard keeping it trimmed attractively.
On the other hand, Naupaka Kahakai has its good points. It actually will grow happily in your beach side garden and makes a nice wide privacy hedge along beach side or road. Some people grow it to prevent coastal erosion along their beach property but you have to know that this is now illegal in Hawaii if you are reclaiming public beach area. If you have irrigation pipes set up to get these plants established you are going to be even more reportable to the authorities.
In some public gardens you will see grounds crews attack Naupaka with a machete to prune down the plant. All that will be left is a bare ugly sprawl of branches. (Yes, it will grow back.) Occasionally a major prune back like this may be necessary but it is way better to take the time to prune back Naupaka with hand pruners and the keep the foliage looking attractive.
Apart from being an attractive coastal plant, Naupaka does have other uses. I would guess the main use today in Hawaii, is to rub the fruit or leaves inside the glass of your snorkeling mask to prevent it going foggy. Anciently in Hawaii, the fruit was a famine food or a welcome fresh snack when making long canoe journeys. Over in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the leaves also served as a famine food. I remember seeing years ago, a picture of smoking pipes made by northern Australian aboriginals using the hollow Naupaka branches for pipe stems. Many cultures throughout the plants habitat used Naupaka for making traditional medicines.
PS.....well after hitting the publish button for this post I realized that this is actually my 100th post on this blog! Yay! Still plodding along. I am enjoying the journey.