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Sophora chrysophylla
Alternative Botanical Names
Edwardsia chrysophylla
Edwardsia unifoliata
Sophora grisea
Sophora lanaiensis
Sophora unifoliata

Common Names
Potential or Traditional Uses
Lei (Flower or Seed)
Photo of Sophora chrysophylla flowers
Sophora chrysophylla is a large shrub or medium sized tree up to 50 feet tall. The branches are golden brown with ridges running along them. Each leaf consists of 6 to 10 pairs of oval leaflets. The light green leaflets range in size from 3/8 to 2 inches long and 1/4 to 1 inch wide.

The pea-like yellow flowers form loose bunches at the bases of leaves or the ends of branches. Flowering occurs in winter and spring; Woolliams noted a March flowering at Waimea Arboretum on O'ahu. (Culliney 1999; Lamb 1981; Wagner 1990; Woolliams 1978)

Habitat and Geographic Range
Sophora chrysophylla is an endemic species found scattered throughout dry shrubland and dry to moist forests; it is also occasionally found in wet forests. It is the most common plant in the subalpine areas of East Maui and the island of Hawai'i. It grows at elevations ranging from 1,400 to over 10,000 feet. It is found on all the main Hawaiian islands except Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
The seeds of Sophora chrysophylla are contained in winged, woody pods shaped like strings of beads - the pods narrow between each seed. Culliney et al notes that the pods stay attached to the tree for most of the year. These brown or brownish gray pods can be up to 6 inches long and are generally 1/2 inch wide. Wagner reports that the seeds are brown to grayish black; both Culliney and Lamb describe them as yellow or orange. Each flattened oval seed is about 1/4 inch long.

In his germination studies, Obata found that untreated seeds of Sophora chrysophylla had germination rates of less than 5%.

Culliney et al recommends scarification followed by soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours and reports germination times of 1 to 2 weeks. 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.

The work done at NTBG (Ragone 1995 and Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1996) supports the recommendation for scarification. For most batches of seed documented, germination of scarified fresh seed began after 2 weeks and continued for 6 weeks. Germination percentages ranged from 26% to 100%.

Woolliams reports that 11 plants were obtained from 41 hot water treated seeds (27%). The first seeds germinated in a little more than 2 weeks and most of the plants were ready to be potted up in about 1 month. It took 3 years for these plants to flower at Waimea Arboretum. Culliney describes plants flowering in 4 years from seed.

Culliney et al recommend sowing the seed in moistened vermiculite. The seed pots should be placed in a shaded area protected from winds and rain.

When Akamine tested the effect of various storage conditions on seeds of Sophora chrysophylla, he found that the seeds are very long lived under all storage conditions. In his germination tests, fresh seed had a 100% germination rate and this did not decline significantly after 3 1/2 years in storage. Based on slight differences in germination rates, he concluded that the optimum storage conditions for Sophora chrysophylla seed would be in open containers at temperatures ranging 45 to 59 degrees F. Yoshinaga also found that seeds of Sophora chrysophylla store well at temperatures ranging from 45 to 84 degrees F and at relative humidities ranging from 30 to 90%. (Akamine 1951; Culliney 1999; Lamb 1981; Lilleeng-Rosenberger 1996; Obata 1967; Ragone 1995; Wagner 1990; Woolliams 1977; Woolliams 1978; 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.
Akamine, Ernest K. 1951. Viability of Hawaiian forest tree seeds in storage at various temperatures and relative humidities. Pacific Science 5:36-46.

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. 107-109.

Lamb, Samuel H. 1981. Native trees and shrubs of the Hawaiian Islands. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press. p 50-51.

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

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

Ragone, Diane, and Kerin Lilleeng-Rosenberger. 1995. Hawaiian Rare Plant Conservation Project. Unpublished report: National Tropical Botanical Garden.

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. 705-706.

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.

Yoshinaga, Alvin. 1998. Storing seeds of some native 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:
16 September 2001

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