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The Flowering Plants of Hawaii (beta)

Part 55 Cyperaceae

Cyperus papyrus
Cyperus trachysanthos
Cyperus trachysanthos

Cyperaceae, the sedge family, are a large cosmopolitan family with 4,450 species arrayed in 92 genera. The genus Cyperus itself is home to about 600 species with 27 in Europe; 150 in Australia, of which 50 are endemic to the island continent; and 96 in North America (numbers from Mabberley, p. 248). One of the most famous of all species of Cyperus is C. papyrus (see image), papyrus in English, kaluhä, papulo, or papuro in Hawaiian. This plant is native to eastern tropical Africa, most notably the Nile Valley, and Madagascar. This is the plant from which Egyptians made paper, and reed boats (Moses on the Nile, and all that that entails). The photograph was taken at the Kuilau Trail trailhead (near Keahua Arboretum, eastern Kaua`i) where it is possible to see a large colony. Thirteen species of Cyperus are listed in Manual with an additional three listed in the Supplement. Of these, all but two are naturalized. Cyperus laevigatus, known as makaloa or ehu`awa, is an indigenous species widespread in warm and subtropical regions. The only endemic species is Cyperus trachysanthos (see image), pu`uka`a, which is under cultivation at the Limahuli Garden. This rare species is known from Ni`ihau, Kaua`i, O`ahu, Moloka`i, and Läna`i, but has rarely been collected in recent years.

Carex wahuensis
Carex wahuensis subsp. wahuensis

Carex is the largest genus in the family sporting about 2,000 species with centers of diversity in Europe (180 species), China (ca. 500 species), Japan (202 species), New Zealand (73 species), and North America (480 species) (numbers from Mabberley, p. 152). The Hawaiian Islands are home to eight species, four indigenous and four endemic. Our representative of Carex is C. wahuensis subsp. wahuensis (see image), which occurs on all of the main islands except Ni`ihau and Kaho`olawe. Subspecies herbstii is rare having been found in only a single location; subsp. rubiginosa, characterized by wider leaves than the others, as well by other features, occurs on Maui, Hawai`i, O`ahu, Kaua`i, and Läna`i.

Cladium, a genus of four species, is represented on the islands by one of them; Cladium jamaicense (see images), `uki, can be found in marshes and along streams on all of the islands except Ni`ihau, Kaho`olawe, and Läna`i. The name `uki is used to denote several course native sedges (Pukui and Elbert, p. 366) so that uses of "`uki" may not necessarily refer to Cladium. Thus, the use of `uki as part of a ceremonial headdress, described by Abbott (p. 116), actually refers to a member of the genus Machaerina, a genus of sedges represented on the islands by two indigenous species. Krauss (p. 309) includes a photograph of M. angustifolia, `uki, but does not comment further on it.

Cladium jamaicense
Cladium jamaicense habit. A Starr image.
Cladium jamaicense fruit
Cladium jamaicense fruit. A Starr image.
Fimbristylis cymosa
Fimbristylis cymosa
Oreobolus furcatus
Oreobolus furcatus. Habit. On West Maui. A Starr image.

Fimbristylis, a genus of about 300 species with its highest concentration in subtropical and tropical parts of Asia, also occurs in the Hawaiian Islands where one finds five species, two naturalized, two indigenous, and one endemic. The endemic species is F. hawaiiensis from Hawai`i where it occurs as part of the pioneer community of plants. I have visited its home range often but have never knowingly seen this species. Much more common in the islands, and in similar sandy habitats throughout the Pacific Basin and beyond, is F. cymosa, mau`u and, on Ni`ihau, `aki`aki. The photograph was taken on the northern coast of Moloka`i, but the plant occurs widely on all of the islands except Kaho`olawe.

The genus Oreobolus, which consists of seven species (14 according to Mabberley, p. 608), is native to alpine regions of Central and South America, Malesia, Australia, and the Hawaiian Islands. It is represented on the islands by the endemic O. furcatus, a species that can be found in open bogs on the summits on Kaua`i, O`ahu, Moloka`i, and Maui. The tightly compact growth habit can be seen in the illustration (see image), while an overall view of a hummock growing in the alpine bog on Moloka`i (see image) shows the typical high elevation community. An entire field of Oreobolus is also illustrated here (see image).

Oreobolus furcatus
Oreobolus furcatus. Alpine bog on Moloka`i.
Oreobolus furcatus. An extensive community
Oreobolus furcatus. An extensive community. Photo by Gerry Carr

Literature cited…

Abbott, I. A. 1992. Lä`au Hawai`i. Traditional Hawaiian uses of plants. Bishop Museum Press. Honolulu, HI.

Krauss, B. H. 1993. Plants in Hawaiian Culture. University of Hawaii Press. Honolulu, HI.

Pukui, M. K. and S. H. Elbert. 1986. Hawaiian Dictionary. University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu.

December 2, 2012

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