Cheirodendron platyphyllum

A Hawaiian Aspen-like tree

On the very top of the mountains of Oahu and the extremely wet peaks of Mt. Waialeale on Kauai lives a tree that Western US hikers might think was a relative of aspen trees. While unrelated, the tree known as Lapalapa resembles Quaking Aspen trees because of the nature of the petiole, the connection of the leaf to the stem. The petioles are flattened which makes the leaves flap in the wind. Some might even say the make a “lapping” sound. Thus, the Hawaiian name for the plant is a kind of onomatopoeia.


‘Lapalapa is a name that generally refers to one of 6 species in the genus Cheirodendron. Five of those species are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Four of those are sometimes referred to as ‘Olapa, while C. platyphyllum is often referred to as ‘Lapalapa. Its only found in very wet forests of Kauai and Oahu. It’s a fairly common tree however, when you get to these wet regions. It’s also one of the most easily distinguished trees because of its leaves.

General Description

This species is a small tree that rarely reaches 30 feet in height. The leaves are opposite and palmately compound. The leaflets of ‘Lapalapa are broader than they are long. Fruit is dark purple.

Interesting Facts

While we haven’t tested this, ‘Lapalapa wood apparently burns when its green. Thus, it was an important tree for Hawaiians that were forced to spend the night in the cold and wet upland forests.

The fruit, leaves, and bark of these trees were used to make a bluish dye for staining kapa cloth. The leaves were used in Hawaiian leis. When the tree is cut it gives off a strong carrot-like odor. This odor was used to scent mamaki kapa.

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Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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