‘Ainakea is said to be one of the prettiest Hawaiian canes, similar in appearance to ‘Ōhi‘a when it is young but lightening in color as it grows. It was often said to be one of the best-producing native cane varieties and was popular cane home gardens, particularly in dry and lowland areas.
The term haole refers to foreigners, and more specifically to Europeans; therefore presumably refers to an introduced sugarcane variety. This name is recorded from Hīlea Plantation records in the mid-1800s. The only physical description of this cane is from Hīlea Plantation, which reports that the stalk is "light and green striped," and that the flesh is "white."
This name literally means "yellow ‘‘Ainakea,'" and this cane is the solid yellow mutant of ‘‘Ainakea.' This cane is also known as ‘‘Ainakea Ke‘oke‘o,' literally meaning "white ‘Ainakea." These are post-contact names, and it is likely that an unknown Hawaiian name exists for this variety.
'‘Akilolo' literally means "brain biting or nibbling." The name typically is associated with hīnālea ‘akilolo, the bird wrasse fish (Gomphosus varius), although a few sources also equate the name to the rainbow wrasse (Julis pulcherrima). The coloration of the bird wrasse are drastically different for the male, who is bright blue and green, and the female, who is black and white with a red nose.
'‘Akoki' is mentioned in historical documents but never receives more than a passing reference. Little information other than the physical description is recorded, and no meaning or origin could be attached to the name. Two canes are currently held in collections, named 'Akoki #22' and 'Akoki #24' by the HSPA. No morphological distinctions between the two accessions could be identified, and they are treated as a single variety here.
‘Ape‘ape refers to native plants of the genus Gunnera, which are a large-leaved species of flowering plants with large, reddish-brown flowers. ‘Ape‘ape have long stalks akin to sugarcane that are green and covered with fine white hairs and bumps that make them appear speckled with white. This cane is sparsely referred to by the early plantations in Hawai‘i, which indicate '‘Ape‘ape' had light green stalks with dark green stripes and was of fair production quality.
'Badila' is a famous cultivar that was transported around the New World in the early plantation days, grown in sugar plantations in the Caribbean, the Philippines, Mauritius, Brazil, and elsewhere. It appears to have been introduced to Hawai‘i in the early 1920s, very late in terms of the industry and past its peak globally. By this point in time commercial hybrids had become the planting standard. Therefore, although there is recorded production of 'Badila' from several plantations, it was never grown significantly in Hawai‘i. As one of the original, highly prized Noble Canes, the 'Badila' variety is mentioned here as an ancestor to many modern commercial hybrids, and one of the standards for growth stature.
This cane was introduced into the modern ethnobotanical collections by Dr. Adrianne Brash from Tantalus, O‘ahu. Dr. Brash claimed this to be a native Hawaiian variety. However, both genetic tests and morphological features indicate that this is not a Hawaiian variety but is likely an early hybrid variety.
H109 was the first major commercial hybrid created in Hawai‘i by HSPA, which was formed in 1895 and began breeding sugarcane in 1905. The first breeding effort created 5,000 seedlings from a mixed patch of sugarcanes, and so it is unknown which variety fathered H109, but the mother was ‘Lāhainā’.
This hybrid was selected by the HSPA in 1950, having been produced in 1948 and grown out in 1949. The breeding efforts at the time were focused on battling a series of droughts, and this cane was selected for its exceptional growth in drier conditions. This cane saved the sugar industry in Hawai‘i during this time, and by the late 1960’s composed ~40% of the cane grown in the state.
This cane has more associated names than any other kō variety, indicating its widespread cultivation and importance. Halāli‘i refers to a location on Ni‘ihau Island where this sugarcane was famous for growing. As a play on words, the name can suggest "little (li‘i) Pandanus tree (hala).”
Although given a Hawaiian name, this sugarcane is a relatively recent introduction from Papua New Guinea. The Papuan names found use dae'erah as the generic name for cane, and nemu, which means “belly,” or iri, which means "egg.” The Hawaiian name, which means "pregnant," refers to the incredibly rounded internodes, which are the cane's most unique feature. This cane has many common names around the world, such as 'Buddha Belly Cane' and 'Egg Cane,' also referring to its swollen internodes. The name 'Hāpai' also refers to a variety of banana whose fruit ripens within the stalk.
Hau in this instance refers not the common low-land hibiscus tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus) but to mother-of-pearl shells. Ka‘aiakamanu states the quivering juice of this kō is reminiscent of the shimmering colors seen in the smooth inner surface of the shells. This cane was commonly used in divination, reading the patterns in the shifting colors.
This cane name appears early in the HSPA collection; however, no source data accompanies its collection. The USDA uses the name ‘Hawaii Original' for all unnamed canes sent from Hawai‘i, but a number always accompanies each variety. It is unclear why this is the only cane in the collections that is referenced as 'Hawaiian Officinarum' or 'Hawaiian Original' when dozens of other canes were originally held under these names. The features of this cane are in line with Nobel Canes in general and Hawaiian varieties in particular.
HC stands for Hawaiian Cane, and although this abbreviation is supposed to refer to unknown indigenous canes, the heavy wax bloom, pointed auricle, and general appearance of this cane all indicate a hybrid.
'HC62' is a highly variable-looking cane that can range from yellow to green to deep red to purple. Due to its high variability, there are difficulties in distinguishing it from other closely related varieties or vice versa. Based on genetics, 'HC62' is a Noble Cane variety, and observations indicate it may be a Hawaiian cane variety.
'HC 71' was originally collected as an indigenous Hawaiian cane with no ethnographic information attached to it. It was subsequently described by the USDA in 1948 with identical descriptions under the code HO 71, standing for Hawaii Original #71. This cane is morphologically very similar to the variety 'Halāli‘i.'
The name hinahina is popular among botanical features in Hawai‘i. The name itself means “gray; grey or white haired,” and all these plants share a common feature of appearing gray or silver. There is a cane held in collections today as ‘Hinahina’ (see ‘Not Hinahina’), but this cane does not match the historical descriptions.
This name refers to an unknown cane that was collected in the Hōnaunau area on the Big Island. It is believed to be an indigenous sugarcane variety, a supposition supported by genetic tests. According to Schenck et al (2004) this cane is morphologically distinct from, but genetically identical to, 'Honomalino #2.'
This name refers to an unknown cane collected in the Honomalino area. It is believed to be an indigenous cane variety, which is supported by genetic tests. Schenck et al. (2004) indicate that this cane is genetically identical to 'Hōnaunau #2,' but the two cultivars are morphologically remarkably different. One explanation is the two varieties are closely related mutants. However, without clear documentation error in cane identification cannot be ruled out.
'Honua‘ula' literally means "red (‘ula) earth (honua),” referring to red soil. This cane is associated with the district on Maui of the same name. The arid region has a deep-reddish soil and swirling winds that caused red dust clouds to swirl about, reportedly reminiscent of how the leaves of a large patch of 'Honua‘ula' blowing in the wind caused a reddish glare.
‘Ie‘ie typically refers to an endemic woody vine (Freycinetia arborea) that is a common plant in Hawaiian wet forests with long, narrow leaves akin to those of sugarcane. The vine is most well known for its aerial roots, which were an important material for making ‘ie (woven baskets and fishtraps) and mahiole (helmets). '‘Ie‘ie' is a Noble Cane variety that was originally exported from New Caledonia, and likely collected in one of the nearby island groups. The earliest reports of this cane refer to it as 'Kava Rangri.' It was a popular variety used in New World sugarcane plantations, including Hawai‘i, Jamaica, and Mauritius. No specific information regarding the introduction to (or possible collection in) Hawai‘i of '‘Ie‘ie' was identified.
This cane is said to have been virtually identical to 'Kea' except that 'Kea' is always larger, the sheath splotched with red, and with a long hair group extending from the tip of the bud.
This name refers to the Kalaoa area on Hawai‘i Island, where this cane was collected by HSPA. Literally, the name means "the choker," and refers to a forked stick for catching eels. It is unclear whether this is a traditional name, as canes were often named after their locales, or if this is a name applied by HSPA when they collected the cane. 'Kalaoa' appears physically identical to 'Pua‘ole,' but initial genetic work examining the chromosome length suggests they are distinct canes.
Kea means "white"; the name is said to refer to the white flesh of the cane and also indicates uhiuhi (Caesalpinia kavaiensis), a native dryforest tree. 'Kea' is the most commonly referenced and sacred cane in the Hawaiian collection and is presumed to be the original cane variety brought to the Islands. During the early 1800s, this was the most common variety planted near Hawaiian homes. After Kamehameha conquered Hāna, Maui, the konohiki were ordered to plant 'Kea' so visiting chiefs from the Big Island could enjoy it.
This is a generic name referring to an unknown cane collected in Keauhou on Hawai‘i Island. Previously there existed accessions 'Keauhou' #1–9, this cane being 'Keauhou #2.' The other cultivars were identified over time, leaving this variety as the sole unknown cane from the Keauhou collection. This accession was equated to 'Wai‘ōhi‘a' by HSPA in 1993, but 'Keauhou' does not remotely match the historical descriptions of 'Wai‘ōhi‘a.' As such, the name 'Keauhou' is retained, and ‘Wai‘ōhi‘a is treated as a separate variety.
The name ‘Kewali’ is found in old plantation records by the mid-1850’s, when only a handful of introduced cane varieties existed in the Islands. No associations with the name have been found. It is said to be a red-stalked cane that is pale yellow when unexposed to the sun, and to have a greenish flesh.
'Lāhainā' was the first cane introduced to Hawai‘i, brought to Lāhainā harbor by Captain Pardon Edwards on the whaleship George Washington from the Marquesan Islands in 1854. A popular local name for this cane became ‘Kenikeni,' which means "ten cents." Rumor says that was the price the original stalk sold for; however, dimes did not exist in Lāhainā at the time of introduction. Alternative histories indicate the name was ‘Kinikini,' meaning "numerous, very many," which was applied to the 'Cuban' cane introduced by Edwards at the same time. However, 'Cuban' did not fare well and the local name 'Kinikini' became more widely applied to Lāhainā and then, over time, was bastardized to 'Kenikeni.'
Lahi literally means "thin, frail, or delicate" and refers to the thin rind of the cane. References to this name only occurred on Maui and ‘Ōahu, where it is also applied to a variety of mai‘a.
This cane is the pink-striped mutant of 'Lahi' recorded by early plantations and studies. The name is a post-contact name, literally meaning "pink-striped Lahi." Assuming that this is an actual mutant of 'Lahi,' this would have been a naturally occurring cultivar in Hawaiian agriculture, even though no ancient name or description was identified. It is possible that this mutant was not favored by traditional agriculturalists and was not deserving of a unique title.
This name references the southerly winter storms that occur in Hawai‘i, and carries the connotation of the word laukōnā, which literally means "many dislikes" and is interpreted as "hardhearted, merciless, or implacable." These two definitions are sometimes applied together to imply "gusty anger," as captured in the chant lines “Eia mai au o ke Kona, ka makani hele ‘ulu‘ulu – Here I come, the southerly storm, the wind that blows furiously."
Lauloa literally means "long leaf" and is a name applied to other crop varieties such as kalo and ‘uala. Traditional accounts indicate that the leaves were long and broad, as expected from the name. The 'Lauloa' variety today matches the historical descriptions with one glaring exception: the leaves are not only small, but they are the smallest of all cultivars examined. Regardless of this discrepancy, this cane is described as 'Lauloa' because it appears this is the same cane that was initially collected by Moir and locally identified.
The only historical references to the name 'Lehu' are in regard to an indigenous Noble Cane introduced from Papua New Guinea. This cane gets its more common name, the 'Hairy Bamboo,' from a unique and distinct characteristic – the entire stalk is covered with short, soft, silver hairs.
The name literally means “red trevally” (Psuedocaranx or Gnathanodon spp.), which is said to be a rare giant trevally with a reddish hue to its reflection. The name, however, refers not necessarily to the fish, but to a coastal location on the western coast of Hawai‘i Island.
Māikoiko refers to the black surgeonfish (Acanthurus nigroris) that is common in Hawaiian reefs. ‘Ele‘ele literally means "black, dark, the black color of Hawaiian eyes.” The name also refers to an edible seaweed (Enteromorpha prolifera) that is long, green, and filamentous, and also used for a variety of kalo (alternatively known as 'Hinupua‘a' or 'Naioea'), a variety of mai‘a prized for its shiny black trunk, and a variety of ‘uala.
This is a post-contact name that means "striped Māikoiko," applied to this banded mutation of 'Māikoiko.' Because this mutation is said to occur often, it is likely there is an unknown Hawaiian name for this variety. Moir indicates that he noticed and isolated this variety from the HSPA germplasm, rather than collect it like most other Hawaiian cultivars.
Maka‘ā literally means "glowing eye" and figuratively refers to wide, staring eyes and curiosity. The name is applied to the flagtail tilefish (Malacanthus brevirostris), which has a distinct, bright blue eye. The fish has faint grayish-green stripes like the stripes described on the cane stalk. 'Maka‘ā' is a mutant of '‘Uala' and is sometimes referred to as the "olive-striped ‘Uala."
Manulele translates to "flying bird." The word kā‘awe literally means "to tie anything around tightly around the neck, to choke, to strangle, hang," and was a name invoked in the hana aloha ceremonies. Lele literally means "to fly or jump" and is reported by Pukui to apply to an unknown fish. 'Manulele' is the most referenced cane in hana aloha, a ceremony intended to cause love in a distant person. In this sense, the "flying bird" carries the prayers to the targeted lover. While a variety is held in collections today as 'Manulele' (see 'Tolo Mauga'), it does not match the historical descriptions.
This cane is said to have been a lighter brown mutant of ‘Manulele’. ‘Mīkokoi’ and ‘Mīkoikoi’ are both a reduplication of mīkoi, literally meaning “to nibble, or eat in small portions as salt with poi.”
This name literally refers to a pale red color and figuratively means "to bloom" but is most often used to denote the red goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus), whose red color, so a fable told, was caused by the fish eating the lehua flowers of the ‘ōhi‘a tree.
Nānahu literally means "coal; charcoal" or can mean "to bite." Some records state that the name should instead be spelt Nanahū, which literally means "bent out of shape; crooked, as a stick." 'Nānahu' is the red mutant of '‘Akilolo' and is synonymous with the post-contact name '‘Akilolo 'Ula‘ula.' This is the primary cane used in making traditional tattoo ink, where wai kō is mixed with the charcoal or soot from burnt kukui.
There is virtually nothing known about this sugarcane. The general characteristics of the cane are consistent with Hawaiian varieties. Recent genetic analysis also supports this concept. Accession notes associated with this cane include “not quite ‘Ie‘ie,” “definitely Hawaiian,” and “close to Halāli‘i.” This cane appears to have entered the collections through Waimea Arboretum from a private donation and spread to other germplasms from there.
This cane is held in many collections today under the name ‘Hinahina’, but it does not match the historic native descriptions of the cane called ‘Hinahina’.
This cane is currently held under collections as ‘Kea’, but genetic tests have shown that this cane is so different from Hawaiian canes that it is almost a separate species.
No information is attached to this cane. It is held in multiple collections, either unnamed or under the name 'Laukona,' but the features do not match the historical descriptions. The features of this cane are consistent with Noble Canes in general, and Hawaiian varieties in particular. While included in the Hawaiian section of this book, there is little evidence, for or against, this canes origin.
This cane is held in most collections as 'Manulele,' however it does not match most historical descriptions, which describe it as buff-brown striped with purple. This cane appears morphologically identical to an introduced Samoa sugarcane variety 'Tolo Mauga,' which literally means "mountain sugarcane.”
This cane occurs in collections with the name 'Uhu' but does not match the historical descriptions. No accession data about where this cane come from, or how the name 'Uhu' was attached to it. This cane is very similar to the 'Hawaiian Original' variety, and a closer study should of the two is needed. Its features indicate that it is a Noble Cane, but it's well developed pointed auricle suggests that it is not a Hawaiian variety.
'‘Ōhi‘a' was named for the mountain apple (Syzygium malaccense), known as ‘ōhi‘a ‘ai (literally "edible ‘ōhi‘a"). The cane's deep red and green colors are said to match the growth and flowers of the mountain apple. Mā‘ohe‘ohe means "tall, straight, spindly, as trees in a dense forest that reach up for light" and refers to bamboo or being bamboo-like. ‘Āweoweo refers to a red reef fish in Hawai‘i commonly called bigeye (Priacanthus spp.) and to a native plant in the Amaranth family (Chenopodium oahuense).
'‘Oliana', or '‘Oleana,' refers to "Oriental," as well as to an introduced ornamental shrub (Nerium oleander). The flowers vary from white to bright pink. The small, hairy seeds look like cane seeds and are the color of the dark brown hairs found along the stalk.
The word omomo, or omoomo, has the same meaning as omo, which can mean “to suck, to absorb, or to gasp,” and can also refer to a gourd used for a container, cliff diving, or the remora fish (Remora spp.).
This cane is said to have looked much like ‘Kea’ and ‘Lahi’, though all three are distinct. ‘Opukea’ is said to have been resistant to the eyespot disease, whereas ‘Lahi’ was badly affected and ‘Kea’ partially affected.
Pakaweli is said to refer to a fish, though no information about what fish or why is given. Some sources indicate that this name is synonymous with 'Mahai‘ula,' though there are conflicting accounts on this subject (see 'Mahai‘ula'). Pailolo refers to a ceremony in which this variety is used, conducted for the onset of learning because one encouraged or roused (pai) the brains (lolo). Hou refers to various varieties of wrasses (Thalassoma spp.) that are colorful shallow-water reef fish. Hou is the adult stage of these fish while another cane name ('‘Āwela', synonymous with 'Pua‘ole') refers to the young stage of the fish.
This name means "brittle or weak" and can also refer to plain, un-dyed kapa cloth. The name may refer to the fact that the stalks of this cane have a thin rind that snaps easily and cleanly. One source stated that the name should be ‘Pākē,' referring to China or Chinese, because the cane came from southeast Asia. No historical references to this cane name were located, but its characteristics are consistent with a Noble Cane variety. Personal communication indicates the late introduction of this cane. The cane commonly gives rise to a yellow and green striped mutant.
Palani literally means "to stink; to smell sour; a detested person" and refers to a deeply colored surgeonfish (Acanthurus dussumieri) that is famous for its strong odor. Palani ‘Ula simply means "red ‘Palani.'
This name is found within some of the very old plantation records, but no information has been attached to the name.
‘Pāpa‘a’ typically means “burnt,” but can also mean “cooked crisp,” “a scab,” or “firmly walled; hold fast; tight; turning over and over while falling.” In general this cane is said to have been virtually identical to ‘Honua‘ula’, distinguishable only by “the presence of a very small groove under the eye.”
This name literally means "coral clinging" and refers to several reef hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteria, Cirrhitops fasciatus, and Amblycirrhitus bimacula) that are red or light pink. 'Piliko‘a' also indicates a stiff, pink seaweed (Galaxaura lapidescens) also sometimes called pākalakala.
‘Pilimai’ literally means “come this way, come hither, or cuddling.” The cane was said to be the yellow–green mutant of ‘‘Akilolo’ and to be very similar to ‘‘Uala’ in appearance except that the eyes are not opposite but at the “4 o’clock position.”
'Pōhina' literally means "gray, misty, foggy, dimly visible, hazy…to fall prone, topple" and refers to the smoky appearance of the cane. This is a closely related cane to 'Uahiapele' according to Moir's classifications and to genetic analysis. Like 'Uahiapele,' this cane grows well in the uplands.
This name literally means "dwarf." Some sources equate this name to '‘Ili‘ōpua', which is often said to be very similar to 'Kea,' but always dwarfed by it. However, both 'Pokapua' and '‘Ili‘ōpua' were held in the HSPA collection for many years, collected under different names and noted to be different canes.
This is a famous and beloved cane noted for being flowerless, indicated in the name Pua‘ole (lit. "without flower"). The natural indisposition to flowering allows this cane to acquire exceptional growth and sweetness.
‘Pupa’ literally means “pupil.” This cane is reported only by Hīlea plantation, which states that it is a native cane that is dark red and short jointed.
John Balaz donated this Noble Cane to the ethnobotanical collections under the idea that it was a Hawaiian cane. However, this cultivar appears to be identical to an early introduction known as 'Big Ribbon' or 'Striped Cheribon' cane, which was common worldwide as an heirloom variety that produced well in plantation agriculture. After 'Lāhainā' had succumbed to red-rot fungus and declined in production, this was the world’s most prevalent Noble Cane grown.
Uahiapele literally means "the smoke of Pele," referring to the volcano goddess in Hawaiian mythology. This name is often used to refer to dark, smoky-colored plants and animals in Hawai‘i.
‘‘Uala’ is reported to be the yellow mutant of ‘‘Ainakea’ and was given the post-European name of ‘‘Ainakea Melemele’. ‘‘Uala’ is said to thrive in wetter climates, and with the exception of ‘Pua‘ole’ produces better in Kā‘ū than any other cane. '‘Uala Maoli,’ a name found only in plantation records, means “true or native ‘Uala,” and so it is likely that this name did not exist until there was an introduced '‘Uala' to confuse it with.
This name literally means “ashen or gray ‘Uala.” H.M. Whitney takes credit for the development of this cane through the debatable process of a grafted hybrid. Whitney claims to have grafted the buds of the introduced ‘Lāhainā’ cane onto planting stock of the indigenous ‘‘Uala’ cane in 1877 at Keaiwi, Kā‘ū.
Uhu literally means "to bolt; break away." This cane shares its name with the parrotfishes (Scarus spp.), which are large, coral-eating reef fish. The color of this variety is reminiscent of the females of several common parrotfish varieties in Hawaiian reefs, which can be various hues of red, in contrast to the blues and greens exhibited by the males.
‘Ula‘ula literally means "red," the most sacred color in Hawaiian culture. The name may apply to blood, red or pale pink kapa cloth, and denotes a variety of kalo with red veins.
‘Ulu refers to the breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), which was an important food source in regions of Hawai‘i. A variety of kalo, 'Mana Ulu,' exhibits a combination of green and pink on the stalk and yields poi that is yellow like baked breadfruit. Only one reference to this cane name was found, which states that it is a pale yellow to pale green cane and that the flesh is yellow like the flesh of the ‘ulu.
This cane is fairly well referenced under the names 'Uluhui' and 'Ule‘ohi‘u,' and equated to '‘Awela Melemele' by Moir. No description or definition of the name could be located. This cane was reported by Fornander to be used as a medicinal salve.
This variety is held at MNBG and was collected at the Wailua Homestead by Lisa Raymond. No additional data accompanied this cultivar. This cane exhibits an unusual characteristic of rarely having a very thin stripe of bright yellow, a characteristic that in Hawai‘i has otherwise only been associated with the cane 'Manulele.' This cultivar is a vigorous producer and is common in backyards on Kauai.
Although wai‘ōhi‘a literally refers to the juice of the mountain apple (Syzygium malaccense), some instead say the cane is named for the coloration of the mountain apple tree. Some Big Island sources indicate that this cane is synonymous to 'Mahai‘ula,’ and HSPA equated this to the name 'Makaiula' (likely a misnomer for 'Mahai‘ula'). While a variety is held in collections today as 'Wai‘ōhi‘a' (see 'Not Wai‘ōhi‘a'), it does not match the historical descriptions.
This is not a cane name, but refers to the location in which the cane was originally collected. Waimea and Waimea #4 are held in collections as different canes, but close examination does not reveal any consistent differences between the two. The canes will be described collectively here.
Weke literally means "crack or narrow opening; to open a crack, as a door; to separate, loosen, free" and refers to certain red and white goatfish (Mullidae spp.) that have large scales and are found in nearshore sand flats. Weke fish are a favorite offering to the gods to turn away curses, and the cane was used for the same purpose.
'Yellow Caledonia' was a popular cane in the early plantation days around the world, when it was predominantly known as 'White Tanna.' Assumed to have been collected in New Caledonia, this cane was prized for its good production in various climates. In the late 1800s and early 1900s 'Yellow Caledonia' represented more than half of all the sugar planted in Hawai‘i, before being displaced by hybrid varieties.
Akilolo literally means “brain biting or nibbling,” and shares its name with a wrasse fish, hīnālea ‘akilolo (Gomphosus varius), whose colors are reminiscent of the stripes along the stalk. The fish is used by kahuna as the pani (closing medicine) for ceremonies applied to cure head diseases. ‘Akilolo also refers to a variety of kalo, and either the kalo or sugarcane may be used as a substitute for the fish during rituals.
Authored by: Noa Kekuewa Lincoln. Please properly cite any use of information or graphics from this page.
Lincoln, N. (2017) Kō: An Ethnobotanical Guide to Hawaiian Sugarcane Varieties. Retrieved from: http://cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu/cane/Home.aspx