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The Flowering Plants of Hawaii (beta)

Part 9 Cannabaceae - Capparaceae - Caprifoliaceae


Humulus lupulus, is a weedy species in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Cannabis sativa in a Nepalese house lot. Photo by Liz Fallis 2011.

The traditional view of the Cannabaceae was that the family consisted of two genera, Cannabis with a single species, and Humulus with two or perhaps three. The current view has the family consisting of about 80 species assorted into 10 genera. DNA-based studies have placed the family Celtidaceae (main genus is Celtis with about 60 species) within the current limits of Cannabaceae (Mabberley, p. 147; Soltis et al., 2005). There are no members of Celtidaceae in the Hawaiian Islands.

Humulus would be known to most readers as the source of hops used in the production of beers and ales (see image). Cannabis is generally thought to consist of the single species C. sativa whose regional differences are recognized at the subspecies level: subsp. sativa, the fiber form from northern latitudes, and subsp. indica, the drug form, from southern latitudes. The problem with this somewhat arbitrary classification is that there are at least 700 cultivars (Mabberley, p. 147). A common situation in law courts dealt with the "proper" identification of the plant in question when either possession or production was at issue. Statutes often defined C. sativa without taking into consideration the subspecific or cultivar designations. Taxonomic botanists were frequently called as expert witnesses in such cases arguing that whatever sample was in question was or was not "true" Cannabis sativa.

The only member of the family that occurs on the Hawaiian Islands is C. sativa, paka lölö in Hawaiian. Paka is a general word used for tobacco, usually in reference to Nicotiana tabacum. Lölö is defined as paralyzed, numb, feeble-minded, or crazy (Pukui and Elbert, p. 211). So, it is easy to see where one might come up with "numbing tobacco" as a descriptive term (Pukui and Elbert, p. 304). I have never encountered paka lölö in any of my visits to the islands, nor have I ever gone looking for it. It is generally advisable not to do so. For the benefit of readers who may not know what Cannabis looks like I append a photograph taken by my daughter who has just returned from a trek in Nepal in the foothills of Annapurna (see image). (...or see Floridata's Cannabis sativa profile.)


Capparis sandwichiana
Capparis sandwichiana
Capparis sandwichiana
Capparis sandwichiana flower close-up

The traditional view of Capparaceae had 800 species distributed in 45 genera (Manual) which included Capparis, the capers, and Cleome. Gardeners will recognize Cleome as the spider plant (see Floridata's Cleome hassleriana profile). DNA-based studies have resulted in a change in composition of the family; the current view of Capparaceae has 510 species arranged in only 19 genera (Mabberley, p. 149). Furthermore, Cleome is now housed in its own family, the Cleomaceae, which has been shown to be more closely related to Brassicaceae (the mustards and cabbage group of species) than to Capparaceae. Thus, Cleomaceae is now seen as comprising 300 species in 10 genera. New treatments of the Hawaiian flora will undoubtedly reflect these changes. As with other similar situations, we will stay with the view of the family as set down in the Manual.

The caper family, considered in the historical sense, is represented on the islands by two species, the endemic Capparis sandwichiana (see image), maiopilo, pilo, or pua pilo in Hawaiian, and Cleome gynandra (see image), honohina or `ili`ohu in Hawaiian, the decorative cleome, now naturalized in the Hawaiian Islands. Most readers will recognize Capparis as the source of the culinary caper, which is the pickled flower buds of the Mediterranean C. spinosa. The beautiful flower of Capparis sandwichiana blooms at night and begins to fade in the early hours of the morning turning to a pale pink before finishing its all too short life. This is characteristic behavior of plants that are pollinated by night fliers, most notably moths. These plants also characteristically possess sweet aromas that attract their pollinators, although I am unaware of the specific situation with regard to the reproductive biology of this Hawaiian species.

The listing of Capparis sandwichiana in the Manual as a vulnerable species is based upon the risk to its primarily coastal habitat. Although many populations of this species have fallen victim to commercial beach front development, it is possible to find this attractive plant on most of the main islands; it just takes a little effort. My favorite site is on the south coast of Maui in the La Pérouse Bay area very near the beginning of the King's Highway trail. This area can be reached by driving as far south of Mäkena as possible, parking in the lot provided, and walking along the shore trail toward the east. The site can be recognized as the last vegetation before the old lava flow. Bushes of caper can be seen growing on rough lava along the last stretch of paved road. The striking contrast between the bright green foliage and pale colored flowers against the stark lava helps in locating these beautiful plants.

Japanese honeysuckle
Lonicera japonica


Caprifoliaceae, the honeysuckle family, is represented on the islands by two common members, Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, and Mexican elder, Sambucus mexicana. Neither seems to present any threat of becoming invasive.

December 31, 2011

Literature cited…

Mabberley, D. J. 2008. Mabberley's Plant-Book, 3rd Edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Soltis, D. E., P. S. Soltis, P. K. Endress, and M. W. Chase. 2005. Phylogeny and Evolution of Angiosperms. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers, Sunderland, MA

Table of Contents

Dicot Families:

Monocot Families:

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