Hala Pepe

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Hala Pepe

Pleomele hawaiiensis

ListedOctober 10, 1996
FamilyLiliaceae (Lily)
DescriptionBranching tree, 16-20 ft (5-6 m) tall; bears yellow flowers and red fruit.
HabitatOpen aa lava in diverse lowland dry forests.
ThreatsResidential and recreational development; habitat destruction by cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats; fire; competition from alien plant taxa; volcanic activity; lack of reproduction.


Hala pepe, or Pleomele hawaiiensis, of the lily family (Liliaceae), is a branching tree, 16-20 ft (4.9-6.1 m) tall, with leaves spirally clustered at the tips of branches and leaving large brown leaf scars as they fall off. The leaves measure 9-15 in (22.9-38.1 cm) long and 0.6-1 in (1.5-2.5 cm) wide. Flowers are numerous in terminal clusters with a main stalk 2-5 in (5-12.7 cm) long and individual flower stalks 0.2-0.5 in (1-1.3 cm) long. The three sepals and three petals of the flower are similar and pale yellow, 1.3-1.7 in (3.3-4.3 cm) long, with a constricted base. The fruit is a red berry about 0.4-0.5 in (1-1.3 cm) long. This species differs from other Hawaiian species in this genus by its pale yellow flowers, the size of the flowers, the length of the constricted base of the flower, and the width of the leaves.

Otto and Isabelle Degener named P. hawaiiensis from a specimen collected in 1977, which was first validly published in 1980. Some experts considered this genus to be part of the larger genus Dracaena, but this combination is no longer used. Two separate species were distinguished, P. haupukehuensis and P. konaensis, which the current treatment includes in P. hawaiiensis.


Hala pepe typically grows on open aa lava in diverse Lowland Dry Forests at elevations between 1,000-2,700 ft (305-823 m). Associated taxa include 'ohi'a, lama, mamane, Sydrax odoratum (alahe'e), huehue, naio, olopua, Nototrichium sandwicense (kulu'i), Sida fallax ('ilima), Erythrina sandwicensis (wiliwili), Santalum sp. ('iliahi), Osteomeles anthyllidifolia ('ulei), and fountain grass as a dominant ground cover, as well as four federally endangered species (Caesalpinia kavaiensis (uhiuhi), Colubrina oppositifolia (kauila), Nothocestrum breviflorum (ai'ae), and Neraudia ovata ), and other species of concern, including Capparis sandwichiana (pua pilo) and Bidens micrantha ssp. ctenophylla (ko'oko'olau) .


Historically, hala pepe was found only on the island of Hawaii ranging from Hualalai to Kau. Six to eight populations are currently knownone to three in the Puu Waawaa region of Hualalai on state-leased and private land; two in the Kaloko/Kaloao area on private land; two in the Kapua/Kahuku area on private land; and one on Holei Pali within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. These populations total 300-400 individuals. The only populations that are successfully reproducing are at Kaloko and Holei Pali. An additional population may exist along the western boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but it has not been revisited recently.


The major threats to hala pepe are habitat conversion associated with residential and recreational development; habitat destruction by cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats; fire (which destroyed a large portion of one Puu Waawaa population in 1986); competition from alien plant taxa, like fountain grass, koa haole, Christmasberry, and lantana; habitat change due to volcanic activity; and the lack of reproduction in all but two populations.

Conservation and Recovery

In 1978, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park out-planted eight cuttings in two groups of four but none survived. As of May 1998, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park had 28 plants and several seedlings. The Volcano Rare Plant Facility had 38 nursery plants; the National Tropical Botanical Garden had one plant and 829 seeds. The Lyon Arboretum is propagating individuals of this species from tissue culture; the arboretum also holds has three plants. In November 1997, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife planted four individuals within the Puu Waawaa Cabin exclosure and another five at the Delissea exclosure in Puu Waawaa.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
Eastside Federal Complex
911 N.E. 11th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232-4181
(503) 231-6121


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1998. "Big Island II: Addendum to the Recovery Plan for the Big Island Plant Cluster." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. 80 pp. plus appendices.