Mountain Naupaka

Scaevola gaudichaudiana

A legend-filled half flower

In the misty, rainy mountains that rise above Waikiki, you’ll find the half-flower of the mountain naupaka. This unusual mountain flower is found nowhere else in the world but the islands of Oahu and Kauai. Yet, unlike other endemics, this species is fairly common in the mesic to wet forests of the two islands. Hawaiians noticed that this wasn’t the only species though. Another common species, beach naupaka, grew only on the dry shorelines. This observation caused Hawaiians to come up with several stories to explain why the two never grew in the same climate region. While there are several different legends, they all have to do with two lovers being turned into the half flowers of the naupaka. One, restricted to the mountains and the other restricted to the coast, never to unite. If you bring the flower of the naupaka from the coast to the naupaka in the mountains, you can unite the lovers!


The name Mountain Naupaka is used to refer to Scaevola gaudichaudiana, one of several naupakas found in the mountains of the islands. There are nine native species in the Hawaiian islands. Eight of these species are found nowhere else in the world. One, beach naupaka, has floating seeds that easily disperse in Pacific waters and is consequently an indigenous species.

General Description

Scaevola gaudichaudiana grows as a bush to small tree. It produces white half-flowers that look similar to that of the beach naupaka. The leaves are spindle-shaped, light green, serrated and two to four inches long. The berries are purple-black.

Eating Naupaka Berries

It has been reported that the small white berries of the beach naupaka were famine food for Hawaiians. While the might not have tasted very good, they were edible. The berries on mountain naupaka, however, are not edible under any circumstances. While not necessarily poisonous, the are extremely bitter.

Hawaiian Legends of the Naupaka

As a guide on the islands, I used to tell guests of the Hawaiian stories related to the mountain naupaka and beach naupaka. There seem to be several different versions of the story, so I’ll used the accounts published by J.B. Hall.

In the first story, two lovers quarreled and the woman, in a fury, tore what had been an intact, circular naupaka flower in two. She told her lover that she would never forgive him until he could find a whole flower again. But the gods had changed all the naupaka flowers of the beach and mountain into half-flowers. He could never find a whole one and eventually died of a broken heart (apparently Hawaiians didn’t believe in happy endings).

A second story claims that a lovely stranger became infatuated with a village youth. The stranger played around with her for a bit and then went back to his old girlfriend. Somehow this infuriated the volcano goddess, Pele. She chased the youth into the mountains with a wave of lava. The gods took pitty on him however, and turned him into a mountain naupaka. Pele was upset by this, however, and chased the other lover down the mountain with lava. The gods then turned her into a beach naupaka. Ever since, the two lovers have been parted, yearning to be with the other but never able to unite. (If you’re confused in any way by this story, you’re not alone. I never fully understood who the gods were supposed to be that turned the two into flowers and why that made Pele even more frustrated.)

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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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