Pōhuehue is a strong indigenous vine common along sandy beaches in the tropics. This herbaceous vine can spread from 7-30 feet. Leaves are 2-4 inches long, glaborous, green, and notched at the tip. Egg-shaped leaves are alternately arranged on succulent stems. Their showy flowers range from white to pink to purple. They bloom all year-round and their flowers will open in the morning and close up by afternoon. Flowers are large and funnel-shaped. A darker purple throat radiates up the midline of each petal, which many see as the purple star at the center of the flower. Fruits are dehiscent capsules that can disperse on ocean currents. Roots commonly form at the nodes and provide for a dense leafy cover. Pōhuehue is a member of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), which means its closely related to ʻuala, pāʻūohiʻiaka (Jacquemontia sandwicensis), and koali ʻawa (Ipomoea indica) to name a few.
Habitat & Uses
Pōhuehue can be found on all Hawaiian Islands typically on sandy beaches and occasionally in lowland marshes or elsewhere inland. They can survive at sea level and up to 2000 feet in elevation. This vine can be found across the tropics and sub-tropics commonly on dunes or beaches where it functions as a sand stabilizer. Therefore, pōhuehue thrives in full sun and dry, nutrient-poor, well-drained sandy soils. They can also tolerate drought, salt spray, and high winds. You can often see pōhuehue intertwined between other coastal plants like naupaka, ʻakiʻaki, and kaunaʻoa (Cuscuta sandwichiana).
Pōhuehue has a variety of traditional uses. Vines could be made into a bushy rope for bag nets used in fishing, while the pliable stems can be turned into cordage. The leafy vines can be used in lei because the flowers do not last long. Historically, roots and leaves were famine foods and young leaf buds or muʻo were consumed to hasten newborn delivery. Today, the consumption of any part of the pōhuehue is viewed unsafe due to the cathartic compounds in the vine. The vines were also known to be mashed and applied to sprains wrapped by a kapa bandage. Since this plant thrives on the beach, it has several oceanic uses such as using the leaves for a fish trap shade, slapping the vines on the ocean to stir up the sea, and for driving fish into nets with the vegetation.
Landscaping & Cultivation
Pōhuehue is perfect for coastal properties with sandy rocky areas and impact from salt-spray and wind. Once established, this vine can form a dense groundcover that provides excellent erosion control. To maintain, occasionally add a layer of mulch, apply a slow release fertilizer every six months, and conduct monthly foliar feed application with any water-soluble fertilizer a dilution of ½ to 1/3 the recommended strength. Vines are prone to damage by sweet potato weevils, red spider mites, slugs, and snails. However, flowers are attractive to beneficial bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and beetles.
To ensure the perfect spot, make sure your pōhuehue has full sun, well-draining soil, and lots of room to spread. After the initial planting, water everyday for two weeks. After that, water only in times of prolonged drought and amend soil with cinder. This hardy vine can survive coastal dynamics, but it can quickly succumb to a fungal leaf spot disease (Cercospora alabamensis) with overwatering. In the right conditions, this vine will grow quickly and therefore you can be aggressive in trimming or rolling up vines to confine the plant within a particular growing area. Pruning in the summer is best when the plant is actively growing.
The ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi pōhuehue can refer to the poetic name for a fisherwoman’s skirt, specifically the goddess Haumea who draped herself in pōhuehue vines as she fished. This name linkage to a famous kaʻao or creation story intimately links the pōhuehue plant with the lawaiʻa or fishing practice. When the name is broken a part, pō refers to night, darkness, obscurity; pōhue can refer to ipu or gourd plants and the climbling legume Canavalia sericea; huehue together can be pimples or refers to another native vine Cocculus ferrandianus. So, the name pōhuehue may refer to how the flowers bloom in the dark of the morning and it could be linking this plant with other similarly behaving vines. The scientific name Ipomoea means worm-like in its twining habit and pes-capre literally translates to “foot of a goat” much like the shape of its leaves.
- Cultural significance
- Erosion control
- Lei flower
- Toxic to animals and humans