An upright herbaceous plant that reaches heights of up to 3 feet. Solanum americanum, commonly called popolo, is an indigenous shrub with an extensive native range. While somewhat short-lived, popolo self-seeding. It produces (and drops) many berries full of seeds that readily germinate. Birds are also attracted to the glossy black fruit, dispersing it far and wide. Popolo is a common native plant that ‘volunteers,’ especially in disturbed areas. While short-lived, two years or so, popolo will self-seed maintaining a constant supply of this food and medicine.
Green leaves have wavey edges, are small, and are alternately arranged. 3 to 10 flowers grow close to the apex. They are star-shaped, white (sometimes there is a purple tinge) with a yellow center, and hang in pendant clusters. Fruit is small, glossy black, and contains numerous seeds within. They readily fall off once ripe.
An important plant for the Hawaiians, popolo, was used as food, medicine, and dye. Leaves and berries were food sources in times of famine. Wounds were packed in salt and popolo leaves. A poultice was made for inflamed eyes. Young leaves were consumed for coughing and bloating.
Dr. Hillabrand treated popolo as native in 1835, although not everyone agrees today. In 1982 popolo seeds were found at the excavation of an adz quarry atop Mauna Kea. This quarry was abanded sometime in the 1600s. Experts still haven’t agreed if this is indigenous, a Polynesian introduction, or nonnative.
- Container plant
- Cultural significance
- Erosion control
- No dangers