College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources logo

Hawaiian Native Plant Propagation Database

database logo

Caesalpinia kavaiensis
Alternative Botanical Names
Mezoneuron kavaiense
Common Names
Potential or Traditional Uses
Lei (Flower or Seed)
Photo of  Caesalpinia kavaiensis flower and foliage
Caesalpinia kavaiensis is a shrub or small tree ranging in height from 12 to over 30 feet. The thick, rough bark is dark gray and breaks up into rectangular or oblong pieces. The 9 to 10 inch long leaves are doubly compound; each leaf has 1 to 5 pairs of small branches and each of these branches has 4 to 8 pairs of leaflets. Each of the oblong leaflets is 3/4 to 2 inches long and 3/8 to 3/4 of an inch wide. The leaflets are bright green on the top and lighter on the underside.

The pink to red colored flowers have both male and female parts (perfect flowers). The reddish stamens stick out past the ends of the flower petals. The flowers form in loose 4 to 7 inch long bunches at the ends of the branches. Caesalpinia kavaiensis blooms in the winter; Woolliams noted a February flowering at Waimea Arboretum on O'ahu. (Culliney 1999; Lamb 1981; Wagner 1990; Woolliams 1978)

Habitat and Geographic Range
Caesalpinia kavaiensis is an endangered endemic Hawaiian species. It grows in dry to moist forests at elevations of 250 to almost 3,000 feet. Formerly it was more common and could be found on Kaua'i, O'ahu (Wai'anae Mountains), West Maui, and the North Kona District of the island of Hawai'i. Currently, only 3 populations are known to exist in: Waimea Canyon, Kaua'i; central leeward Wai'anae Mountains, O'ahu; and Kualalai, on the island of Hawai'i. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
The fruits of Caesalpinia kavaiensis are flat, woody, oblong pods. The pods are reddish and range in size from 3 1/2 to 5 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 inches wide. Each pod contains 2 to 4 flat oval seeds which form across the width of the pod. The seeds are pale brown and about 3/4 of an inch long. The fruits mature from late winter to midsummer.

To germinate the seeds, remove them from the capsules, discarding any that have been damaged by beetles. Lilleeng-Rosenberger (1998 and Ragone 1993) and Stratton et al recommend scarifying the seeds. Scarifying means to penetrate the outer seed coat allowing water to enter the seed. This can be done using sandpaper, a file, nail clippers, or by cracking with a hammer. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the inner part of the seed. Culliney cautions against scarifying the seeds of Caesalpinia kavaiensis too deeply as this makes the sprouts more likely to rot. NTBG (Ragone 1993) recommends scarification without soaking; they noted a tendency for scarified seeds to absorb so much water during soaking that they rotted very easily.

Woolliams (1978) reported 100% germination for 5 seeds which had been scarified and only 2 plants from 9 fresh, untreated seeds (22% germination). In his germination studies, however, Obata found that untreated seeds of Caesalpinia kavaiensis had germination rates of less than 5%. NTBG (Ragone 1993) obtained 80% to 100% germination for scarified seeds.

According to Stratton's survey respondents, Caesalpinia kavaiensis does not transplant well so they recommend planting one seed in a 3 inch pot. Plant the seeds 1/8 inch deep in a well-drained medium such as a 3 to 1 mixture of #2 perlite and Sunshine Mix #4. Keep the planting medium a bit on the dry side since the seedlings are susceptible to root rot.

According to Stratton, germination takes 5 to 7 days with almost a 100% germination rate if healthy seeds are planted. Woolliams (1978) reported that scarified seeds took 14 days to begin germinating. Culliney reports germination times of a few days to many months. He states that seeds that have dried for a long time take longer to germinate; seeds that have just matured and are still pale brown sprout the fastest. Ragone reported germination times ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months for scarified seeds.

Plants may grow slowly after initial germination; a foliar application of phosphorus may be helpful. Do not overfertilize with nitrogen. Seed grown plants flowered after 2 1/2 years at Waimea Arboretum. Culliney reports that seedlings have flowered after 1 year while still in their pots.

For storage, air dry the cleaned seeds at room temperature. Store the seeds in a paper bag or envelope with desiccant in a refrigerator or freezer. NTBG (Ragone 1993) had 89% to 100% germination rates for seeds which had been frozen for 2 years. (Culliney 1999; Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1998; Obata 1967; Ragone 1993; Stratton 1998; Wagner 1990; Woolliams 1977; Woolliams 1978)

Propagation by Cuttings
No information located to date.
Propagation by Division
Not applicable
Propagation by Air Layers
No information located to date.
Propagation by Grafting
No information located to date.
Propagation by Tissue Culture
No information located to date.
Culliney, John L., and Bruce P. Koebele. 1999. A native Hawaiian garden: how to grow and care for island plants. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 136-139.

Lamb, Samuel H. 1981. Native trees and shrubs of the Hawaiian Islands. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press. p. 48.

Lilleeng-Rosenberger, Kerin. 1998. Propagation techniques for native Hawaiian plants. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 37 (2):33-35.

Obata, John K. 1967. Seed germination in native Hawaiian plants. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 6 (3):13-20.

Ragone, Diane, (Program Coordinator). 1993. Hawaii Plant Conservation Center - Collection & Propagation Project: Progress Report (USFWS Grant 14-48-0001-92581). Lawai, Hawaii: National Tropical Botanical Garden. p. 9.

Stratton, Lisa, Leslie Hudson, Nova Suenaga, and Barrie Morgan. 1998. Overview of Hawaiian dry forest propagation techniques. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 37 (2):13, 15-27.

Wagner, Warren L., Darrel R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer. 1990. Manual of the flowering plants of Hawai'i. 2 vols, Bishop Museum Special Publication 83. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press and Bishop Museum Press. p. 647-648.

Woolliams, Keith. 1977. Report from Waimea Arboretum. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 16 (5):75-76.

Woolliams, Keith. 1978. Propagation of some endangered Hawaiian plants at Waimea Arboretum. Notes from Waimea Arboretum & Botanical Garden 5 (1):3-4.

Search Database

Browse Database --
By Botanical Name
By Common Name

Other Native Hawaiian Plant Sites

Other Plant Propagation Sites

Database Bibliography

Database Home Page

Other CTAHR Databases

The image in this record is used with permission from Dr. Gerald Carr's Web site "Hawaiian Native Plants" at

Last updated:
25 August 2001

Please send comments and suggestions to