Hawaiian Name(s): kī

Scientific Name: Cordyline fruticosa

Vernacular Name: ti

Family: Asparagaceae

Status: Polynesian introduction

Authority: (L.) A.Chev.

Description: Shrubs, 2-3.5 m, green thin leaves 40-80 cm long.

Habitat Found in cultivated & mesic valleys and mesic forest 5-610 m (Wagner et al. 1990:1348–1350).

Medicines: Kī has many medicinal uses. For treatment of i‘aku o ka ihu (nasal growth) kī flowers are combined with rhizomes (underground stems) of ‘ōolena (Cucurma longa), ‘awapuhi kuahiwi (Zingiber zerumbet), and ‘awapuhi lei (Hedychium coronarium), as well as powdered ‘iliahi (Santalum spp.) and naio (Myoporum sandwicense). For hano (ho) maka‘u i ke kanaka, kī flowers are added to pith of the ‘ama‘uma‘u fern (Sadleria cyatheoides) and ‘ōkaha (birdsnest fern, Asplenium nidus), and taken internally with poi and other foods. Treatment for shortness of breath/asthma (nae, nae‘oiku, nae hokale ‘ano ohaohao) kī flowers and leaf buds are mixed with ‘uhaloa root bark (Waltheria indica), ‘ala‘ala wai nui pehu (Peperomia spp.), noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia), ‘uala huamoa (sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas), possibly pu (squash, Cucurbita spp.), and kō kea (white sugarcane,Saccharum officinarum). For phlegm in the chest, umauma hihia pa‘akiki i ka male, leaves and leaf buds of the kī is mixed with ‘uala, to cause vomiting. For the illness wela hou ‘ole o ke kino (absence of perspiration), kī leaves are wrapped about the head and chest. For illnesses such as hinanawe, hopilo, wai‘opua, (classes of kohepopo?), the leaves are stripped and worn as a lei. The treatment for nae‘oiku and wai‘opua and similar classes of kohepopo illnesses, the leaf buds of the kī are combined with ‘ala‘ala wai nui pehu, the aerial roots of the hala (Pandanus tectorius), leaf buds from pōpolo (Solanum americanum), noni fruit, and kō kea.

Non Medicinal Uses: Many uses, including leaves as food wrappers in imu and for footwear; the sweet roots baked as a "treat or famine food"; in historic period distilled into alcoholic beverage, ‘okolehao (Handy et al. 1972:222–225). The earliest account of kī use come from the late eighteenth century (Cpt. Portlock 1789), who says that sweet potatoes, taro, sugarcane, yams and "tee" were "met in great abundance". Abbott suggests that the term "famine food" for kī may be inappropriate, and says perhaps it was more commonly consumed (1992:41–42). Commonly cooked and eaten in many other island groups, such as New Zealand, Samoa, Society Islands (Pollock 1992). It is of note that Portlock made beer from the boiled roots for curing scurvy, it is possible that this was a forerunner of ‘okolehau, which is distilled in iron pots, hence the name "iron bottom". Degener says that the Hawaiians brewed beverages of low alcoholic content from kī, ‘uala, & kō prior to haole arrival, and that before 1800 they were taught to distill kī by some convicts from Botany Bay, Australia (1930:97). Hillebrand (1888:442) may be the source of this idea--he notes that the natives understood how to make a kind of beer, and later learned to distill it. The leaves are used as thatch, rain capes, symbols of status, plates, instruments, & cups; the stem is used in divining (Handy et al. 1972:222–225). Used on hula altars (kuahu) (Emerson 1909:20). Leaves used as healing apparatus, not as medicines themselves: they were wrapped around warm stones to serve as hot packs, used in poultices, and applied to fevered brows (Abbott 1992:101).

Specific gravity of wood: unknown

Famous Locations:

Mele: "‘O ka lau la‘i ko‘u kapa ia" line in "Pa‘ahana" "Ha‘iha‘i pua kamani pauku pua kī" line in "Makalapua" (Elbert & Mahoe 1970).

`Ōlelo Noeau: [I] E aha ‘ia ana o Hakipu‘u i ka palaoa lawalu ‘ono a Ka‘ehu? What is happening to Hakipu‘u, with dough cooked in ti leaves, of which Ka‘ehu is so found? This is a line of a chant composed by Ka‘ehu, a poet and hula instructor from Kaua‘i. It refers to a part-white woman with whom he flirted. Used in humor when referring to Hakipu‘u, a place on the windward side of O‘ahu [II] E pale lau‘i i ko akua ke hiki aku i Kona. Place a shield of ti leaves before your god when you arrive in Kona. A message sent by Ka‘ahumanu to Liholiho requesting him to free the kapu of his god Kuka‘ilimoku. Ka‘ahumanu was at that time striving to abolish the kapu system. [III] Hawai‘i palu la‘i. Ti-leaf lickers of Hawai‘i. This saying originated after Kamehameha conquered the island of O‘ahu. The people of Kailua, O‘ahu, gave a great feast for him, not expecting him to bring such a crowd of people. The first to arive ate up the meat, so the second group had to be content with licking and nibbling at the bits of meat that adhered to the ti leaves. In derision, the people of O‘ahu called them "ti-leaf lickers." [IV] Ka i‘a ka welelau oke ahi. The fish that lies on the top edge of the fire. The ‘o‘opu, wrapped in ti leaves and laid on the hot coals. [V] Ka wai ho‘iho‘i la-‘i o ‘Eleile. The water of ‘Eleile that carries back the ti-leaf stalk. The pool of ‘Eleile on Maui is famed in songs and chants. Visitors throw ti stalks into the pool and watch the water carry them all around before washing them downstream. [VI] Lau‘i pekepeke. Short-leaved ti plant. An insult applied to the kauwa. Like small-leaved ti, they weren't much use. Longer leaves were better liked because they were useful as food wrappers. [VII] Palaki a Moemoe. Ti daubs of Moemoe. Excrement. Ti eaten in great quantity loosens the bowels. Moemoe was a prophet whose excrement, when questioned, was said to reply of his whereabouts. [VIII] Ua ahu ka imu, e lawalu ka i‘a. The oven is ready, let the fish wrapped in ti leaves be cooked. All preparations have been made; now let us proceed with the work.

Dye Color and Parts:

Kino lau:

Location on Bishop Museum Kalihi Campus: many places, front of Hawaiian Hall & near Castle Bldg

Propagation Information: Cut stalk & strip off all leaves, cut stalk into 4-8 inch pieces; soak in bucket of water with growing side up, once root buds appear plant either at an angle or lay flat in moist, well drained soil with partial shade 9-12 inches apart; protect from wind (Burgess and Enos 1996:48–49).

Seed: Seed length approximately 3-4 mm. Photograph: H.Lennstrom.
Click for image