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Diospyros sandwicensis
Alternative Botanical Names
Diospyros ferrea
Ebenus sandwicensis
Maba degeneri
Maba kauaiensis
Maba sandwicensis
Maba toppingii

Common Names
Hawaiian Ebony
Potential or Traditional Uses
Photo of Diospyros sandwicensis
Diospyros sandwicensis is a small, slow-growing tree generally not more than 35 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The new leaves are bright pink or scarlet becoming pale green at maturity. The leaves are longer than they are wide and range in length from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches. The solitary flowers are relatively inconspicuous and develop at the bases of the leaf stems. (NTBG 1996; Wagner 1990)
Habitat and Geographic Range
Diospyros sandwicensis is a Hawaiian endemic plant and has been found on all the main islands except Kaho'olawe and Ni'ihau. It occurs, sometimes as a dominant plant, in dry to moist forests and occasionally in wet forests. It grows at elevations ranging from almost sea level to 4,000 feet. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
The 3/4 inch oval fruits of Diospyros sandwicensis are bright yellow to red when ripe. Each fruit contains 1 to 3 brown seeds. Fresh seeds germinate readily.

The seeds must be removed from the fleshy orange fruit pulp. Bornhorst suggests that the seeds can simply be squeezed out of the fruit and planted. Lilleeg-Rosenberger (1998) and Stratton et al recommend ripening the seeds in a plastic bag. This softens the pulp making the seeds easier to clean. After ripening, the fruit flesh can be removed by either placing the fruits in a colander or strainer under running water, or breaking up the fruit by hand in a bowl of water. NTBG also recommends breaking up the fruit in water. The lighter pulp and unviable seeds will float and can be poured off. The seeds should then be washed thoroughly and dried on a paper towel.

Stratton's informants indicate that fresh seed of Diospyros sandwicensis can be sown without pretreatment or the seeds can be soaked overnight in warm tap water. NTBG suggests that the seed coat be penetrated or scarified. This can be done using sandpaper, nail clippers, or by cracking it with a hammer. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the inner part of the seed. After scarification, the seeds should be soaked in water for 48 hours. The water should be changed daily.

NTBG reports that the seeds should be planted in soil-less potting mix at a depth of twice the diameter of the seed, or about 1/4 inch. Stratton's survey respondents recommend planting the seeds 1/8 inch deep in shallow containers. They recommend a well-drained planting medium such as 3 parts of perlite #2 to 1 part Sunshine Mix #4, or 1 part peat to 1 part perlite to 1 part soil. Keep the planting medium moist until germination and place the planting containers in a covered, shaded area to control soil moisture and prevent rain damage.

Reports on germination times for untreated Diospyros seeds vary from 25 days to 4 months. Germination rate for fresh, untreated seed ranges 50 to 90%. Lilleeng-Rosenberger's notes indicate very high germination rates for most batches of untreated fresh seeds ranging from 80% to 91%. In his germination studies, Obata found that untreated seeds of Diospyros sandwicensis had germination rates ranging from 5 to 30%. In the Stratton et al article, soaked seed is said to germinate in 8 to 16 weeks with a 50% germination rate, and soaked, scarified seed germinates in about 1 month with a 60% germination rate.

Diospyros sandwicensis seed cannot be stored without significant loss of viability. They deteriorate rapidly and are difficult to dry.

Diospyros sandwicensis seedlings can succumb to a fungal disease in a few days. The first area affected is often near the hypocotyl bend, the "neck" of the seedling that pushes up through the soil. Koebele recommends using a cotton swab to apply a 12% sulfur paste to the affected area. Do not wet the treated area and reapply the paste every couple of days for one or two weeks. (Bornhorst 1996; Koebele 1999; Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1996; Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1998; NTBG 1996; Obata 1967; Stratton 1998; Wagner 1990; Yoshinaga 1998)

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.
Bornhorst, Heidi L. 1996. Growing native Hawaiian plants: a how-to guide for the gardener. Honolulu: The Bess Press. p. 66-67.

Koebele, Bruce P. 1999. Sulfur paste: an effective treatment for a fungal disease that attacks Lama (Diospyros sandwicensis) seedlings. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 37 (4):67.

Lilleeng-Rosenberger, Kerin. 1996. Plant propagation notebook. Unpublished materials: National Tropical Botanical Garden.

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

National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). 1996. Ten native Hawaiian trees for urban landscapes. Lawai, Hawaii: Education and Plant Science Departments. National Tropical Botanical Garden.

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

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. 585-587.

Yoshinaga, Alvin. 1998. Storing seeds of some natiave rain forest plants: some simple methods. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 37 (2):28-32.

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

Last updated:
26 August 2001

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