College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources logo

Hawaiian Native Plant Propagation Database

database logo

Sesbania tomentosa
Alternative Botanical Names
Sesbania arborea
Sesbania hawaiiensis
Sesbania hobdyi
Sesbania molokaiensis

Common Names
Potential or Traditional Uses
Lei (Flower or Seed)
Photo of Sesbania tomentosa flowers
Sesbania tomentosa is a variable species. It is usually a low, spreading shrub with horizontal or arching branches; it is can also have a treelike habit up to 15 feet tall. In the wild, a single plant can cover a large area, but in cultivation it will tend to be under 10 feet in diameter.

Each leaf is made of many oval leaflets which appear white or silvery because they are densely covered with hairs. There are 2 to 9 pea-shaped flowers in each cluster hanging below the foliage. The color of these 1 inch flowers ranges from salmon to orange to scarlet, and very rarely pure yellow. (Koob 1999; Wagner 1990)

Habitat and Geographic Range
Sesbania tomentosa is an endangered, endemic Hawaiian plant. It used to grow in dry areas at elevations below 2,500 feet on all of the main islands. However, destruction of these habitats has greatly diminished its natural occurrence within its former range. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
The seeds of Sesbania tomentosa are contained in 3 to 9 inch long narrow pods which are tan when mature. Each pod contains many olive or pale brown seeds which are 1/4 to 3/8 inch long. Insects often destroy the seeds before the pods split open. If the pods have holes in them, carefully check the seeds for damage.

Manually remove the seeds from the pods. When you are ready to plant the seeds, soak them in water for several hours or overnight. NTBG suggests hot water which has been brought to boiling temperature. Waimea Arboretum (Anonymous 1975) used a 30 minute hot water soak as a pre-plant treatment. Lilleeng-Rosenberger (1998) recommends scarifying the seeds followed by soaking. Scarification (penetration of the seed coat) can be done using a clippers, file or sandpaper, or by cracking the seeds with a hammer being careful not to damage the end where the seed will sprout.

Discard any seeds that float and plant the rest in sterile well-drained potting mix 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. NTBG recommends a mix of 2 parts perlite to 1 part vermiculite to 1 part washed beach sand. Germination takes about 7 days. In her notes, Lilleeng-Rosenberger (1996) documents 100% germination for scarified seed.

Sesbania tomentosa seeds are viable for several years if kept cool and dry. Woolliams writes that he obtained 90% germination with seeds over 2 years old by repeating the hot water treatment on seeds which had not germinated. (Anonymous 1975; Koob 1999; Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1996; Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1998; NTBG n.d.; Wager 1990; Woolliams 1975; Woolliams 1976)

Propagation by Cuttings
Sesbania tomentosa can be grown from cuttings. (Koob 1999)
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.
Anonymous. 1975. Propagation: Sesbania tomentosa Hook & Arn. (74a920). Notes from Waimea Arboretum & Botanical Garden 2 (2):7-8.

Chapin, Melany H. 1991. Sesbania, a lesser known legume. The Bulletin of the National Tropical Botanical Garden 21 (1-2):1-4.

Koob, Gregory A. 1999. 'Ohai: a native Hawaiian endangered plant ideal for dry landscapes. Hawai'i Horticulture 2 (3):12-15. Lilleeng-Rosenberger, Kerin. 1996. Plant propagation notebook. Unpublished materials: National Tropical Botanical Garden.

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). n.d. 'Ohai. In Native Hawaiian plant information sheets. Lawai, Kauai: Hawaii Plant Conservation Center. National Tropical Botanical Garden. Unpublished internal papers.

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. 704-705.

Woolliams, Keith R. 1975. The propagation of Hawaiian endangered species. Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 14 (4):59-68.

Woolliams, Keith R. 1976. The propagation of Hawaiian endangered species. NATO Conference Series. I, Ecology 1:73-83.

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


Last updated:
16 September 2001

Please send comments and suggestions to