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Acacia koaia

leaf Main Plant Information

Genus

Acacia

Species

koaia

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Koa ʻohā
  • Koaiʻa
  • Koaiʻe

Hawaiian Names

  • Koa oha
  • Koaia
  • Koaie

Common Names

  • Dwarf koa

Synonyms

  • Acacia koa

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status

Endemic

Endangered Species Status

At Risk

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30

Mature Size, Width

Koaiʻa has a canopy spread of about 20 feet.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

Koaiʻa is usually a better choice in the lowland urban landscape than koa because of its smaller stature, natural lowland dry habitat, drought tolerances, and more pest resistant properties than koa. [4] Trees inoculated with rhizobia tend to be more vigorous. [1]

Source of Fragrance

  • No Fragrance

Additional Fragrance Information

Koaiʻa have a distinctive pungent smell that is emitted from the symbiotic bateria in the root and soil area.

Plant Produces Flowers

Yes

leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Not Showy

Flower Colors

  • Cream
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Koaiʻa has light yellow fluffy round flower puffs.

Blooming Period

  • Sporadic
  • January
  • February
  • March

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Flowering and seed production can be sporadic but the peak blooming time is usually from January to March. The seed quality can be very poor in wetter climates but very high in drier climates.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Koaiʻa have sickle-shaped mature "leaves" called phyllodes, usually straighter and narrower than koa. The juvenile leaves (true leaves) are feathery compound leaves.

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Koaiʻa has green to gray green leaves.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Koaiʻa seems to be less susceptible to Chinese rose beetles than koa, although it may be more prone to scale insects and mealybugs.

Since koaiʻa forms a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria in its roots for the nitrogen-fixing process, using pesticides around the root area is not recommended.

leaf Growth Requirements

Fertilizer

Seedlings can be fertilized 2 or 3 weeks after secondary growth with 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. Since koaiʻa are nitrogen-fixing trees, additional nitrogen is not necessary when phyllodes, or sickle-shaped leaves, begin to appear.

Pruning Information

Trees should not be pruned unless necessary. Lower branches do self-prune. If pruning is required, it should be minimal, done properly and without excessive injury to the tree. [4]

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Additional Water Information

Koaiʻa can tolerate both dry and moist watering conditions but do best under dry conditions. These small trees have light to moderate water needs. Once established, water once or twice a month in dry season. These xeric trees will not tolerate water-logged soil.

Soil must be well drained

Yes

Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

It does best in full sun.

Spacing Information

Koaiʻa should be planted at least 20 feet apart.

Tolerances

  • Drought
  • Wind

Soils

  • Clay
  • Cinder
  • Organic

Limitations

These trees do not do well in very wet soils. Surface roots of koaiʻa will not tolerate high foot traffic, causing damage that will affect the health and vigor of the trees themselves.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)

Additional Habitat Information

The rare koaiʻa naturally grow in open, dry habitats. The Koaiʻa Tree Sanctuary in Kohala (Hawaiʻi Island) is an excellent place to see these trees in one of their last natural habitats. Many grow along the road to Waimea. Sadly, much of koaiʻa habitat has been converted to pasture. [2] "Lānaʻi has very little koa," notes botanist George Munro. But "koaiʻa can be found widely scattered on the dry country." [7]

Its former natural range extended possibly on Oʻahu as well.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Koaiʻa belong to the third largest plant family, the Pea or Legume family (Fabaceae). There are two endemic species of Acacia in the Hawaiian Islands: Acacia koaia and A. koa.

These small trees are nitrogen-fixing and thus very beneficial to a healthy native Hawaiian environment. The growth of koaiʻa is due to the symbiotic relationship with a special bacteria called rhizobia that live in association with the root system. The bacteria convert, or fix, nitrogen from the air into usable nitrogen fertilizer for plants. The leaves, flowers and branches also provide nitrogen for understory and plants in the area.

Some of the major physical differences between koa and koaiʻa are:

  • Koaiʻa are overall smaller and more compact trees with a denser, harder and more gnarled wood than koa.
  • Koaiʻa usually have straighter and narrower phyllodes (expanded petioles) than koa.
  • The seeds of koaiʻa are arranged in pods end-to-end (vertical) as opposed to a side-by-side (horizontal) arrangement with koa.

Otto Degener uses ʻakoa as an additional name for koaiʻa. [3]

Early Hawaiian Use

The dense reddish brown wood is harder than koa and was used by early Hawaiians for short spears (ihe), long spears (pololū), fish lures (lāʻau melomeleo), shark hooks (makau manō) with bone points, bait sticks in fishing, fancy paddles (hoe), house (hale) construction, ʻukēkē (musical bow), calabashes (ʻumeke), [5] and the ʻiʻe kūkū --the final beater to smooth out the kapa. [5,8]

Koaiʻa was not used for making canoes (waʻa) because it produced curly grained wood. [9]

The crushed koaiʻa leaves were mixed with other plant materials and used in a steam bath for skin disorders.

One older source (Charles Gaudichaud,1819) states that Hawaiians "used all fragrant plants, all flowers and even colored fruits" for lei making. The red or yellow were indicative of divine and cheifly rank; the purple flowers and fruit, or with fragrance, were associated with divinety. Because of their long-standing place in oral tradition, the leaves and flowers of koaiʻa were likely used for lei making by early Hawaiians, even though there are no written sources. [6]

Modern Use

The phyllodes can be woven together to make a very attractive lei. [Rick Barboza, Hui Kū Maoli Ola]

The very prized wood is scarce today and rarely used.

Additional References

[1] "Growing Koa" by Kim M. Wilkinson, pages 11-12, 35-36.
[2] "Hawaiʻi's Vanishing Flora" by Bert Y. Kimura, page 51.
[3] "Flora Hawaiiensis" by Otto Degener, Family: 169a Acacia Koaia
[4] http://www.hawaiibea.com/2006/02/koaiaa_monarch_.html#more (accessed November 22, 2008)
[5] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 43, 45, 85.

[6] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages XIV-XV, 43.

[7] "The Strory of Lānaʻi" by George C. Munro, page 69.

[8] "Arts and Crafts of Hawaii" by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter H. Buck), page 169.

[9] "The Hawaiian Canoe" by Tommy Holmes, page 23.

Special Notes and Information

Koaiʻa belong to the third largest plant family, the Pea or Legume family (Fabaceae). There are two endemic species of Acacia in the Hawaiian Islands: Acacia koaia and A. koa.

These small trees are nitrogen-fixing and thus very beneficial to a healthy native Hawaiian environment. The growth of koaiʻa is due to the symbiotic relationship with a special bacteria called rhizobia that live in association with the root system. The bacteria convert, or fix, nitrogen from the air into usable nitrogen fertilizer for plants. The leaves, flowers and branches also provide nitrogen for understory and plants in the area.

Some of the major physical differences between koa and koaiʻa are:

  • Koaiʻa are overall smaller and more compact trees with a denser, harder and more gnarled wood than koa.
  • Koaiʻa usually have straighter and narrower phyllodes (expanded petioles) than koa.
  • The seeds of koaiʻa are arranged in pods end-to-end (vertical) as opposed to a side-by-side (horizontal) arrangement with koa.

Otto Degener uses ʻakoa as an additional name for koaiʻa. [3]

Early Hawaiian Use

The dense reddish brown wood is harder than koa and was used by early Hawaiians for short spears (ihe), long spears (pololū), fish lures (lāʻau melomeleo), shark hooks (makau manō) with bone points, bait sticks in fishing, fancy paddles (hoe), house (hale) construction, ʻukēkē (musical bow), calabashes (ʻumeke), [5] and the ʻiʻe kūkū --the final beater to smooth out the kapa. [5,8]

Koaiʻa was not used for making canoes (waʻa) because it produced curly grained wood. [9]

The crushed koaiʻa leaves were mixed with other plant materials and used in a steam bath for skin disorders.

One older source (Charles Gaudichaud,1819) states that Hawaiians "used all fragrant plants, all flowers and even colored fruits" for lei making. The red or yellow were indicative of divine and cheifly rank; the purple flowers and fruit, or with fragrance, were associated with divinety. Because of their long-standing place in oral tradition, the leaves and flowers of koaiʻa were likely used for lei making by early Hawaiians, even though there are no written sources. [6]

Modern Use

The phyllodes can be woven together to make a very attractive lei. [Rick Barboza, Hui Kū Maoli Ola]

The very prized wood is scarce today and rarely used.

Landscape Use

Koaiʻa is usually a better choice in the lowland urban landscape than koa because of its smaller stature, natural lowland dry habitat, drought tolerances, and more pest resistant properties than koa. [4] Trees inoculated with rhizobia tend to be more vigorous. [1]

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