CPC Plant Profile: Native Caper
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Plant Profile

Native Caper (Capparis sandwichiana)

Flower at La Perouse, Maui, Hawaii. December 01, 1998 #981201-0209 - Image Use Policy Also placed in Capparaceae. Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr © 1998
  • Global Rank: G2 - Imperiled
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Capparaceae
  • State: HI
  • Nature Serve ID: 154787
  • Date Inducted in National Collection:

C. sandwichiana is a woody shrub with light green fleshy leaves, showy white flowers and orange cucumber-like berry (Culliney 1999). These fruits have small reddish-brown seeds that have been proven to germinate readily when mature, but the fruits often suffer damage from insects and birds when they are fully ripened (Herring 2001, Native Plants Hawai`i 2009). The pleasant lemon-smelling flowers are especially unique as they bloom in the early evening, remain open throughout the night, and then wilt by mid-morning to a pale pink shade (Culliney 1999). In bloom, the flowers show off its 120-180 stamens during its flowering season from spring to summer (Native Plants Hawai`i 2009). This is the only Capparis species native to the Hawaiian Islands, mostly known to Hawaiian natives as "maiapilo" which means bad smelling banana, referring to the smell of its fruits when ripe. The smell did not repel early Hawaiian peoples from using the plant as medicine for fractured bones and boils (Native Plants Hawai`i 2009).

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Clarice Mendoza
  • 09/22/2017

Many occurrences of this plant species are spread throughout the Hawaiian islands but the total population has declined by 10% in the last ten years. There is estimated by around a couple thousand individuals growing in its native range (Bruegmann 2003).

Clarice Mendoza
  • 09/22/2017

The main ecological threat to this taxon is habitat fragmentation from coastal development, urban sprawl, and ranching (Bruegmann 2003). Its survival is also threatened by unmanaged fires, predation and trampling by ungulates, and direct competition with invasive plant species (NatureServe 2016). 

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Taxon Capparis sandwichiana
Authority DC.
Family Capparaceae
CPC Number 8509
ITIS 22609
Common Names Native Caper | Maiapilo | Pua Pilo | Hawaiian caper | Polo | Puapili | Pilo | Caper bush | pus pilo
Associated Scientific Names Capparis sandwichiana var. zoharyi | Capparis spinosa var. mariana | Capparis sandwichiana | Capparis mariana | Capparis cordifolia | Capparis sandwicensis
Distribution Endemic to the Hawaiian islands, this plant is found on all seven of the islands. The smaller islands of Midway Atoll, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, and Laysan also serve as a part of this plant's native range (NatureServe 2016). While there is a healthy number of wild individuals left (in the thousands), there has been a 10% decrease in total population throughout the past ten years (Bruegmann 2003).
State Rank
State State Rank
Hawaii S2

This taxon tends to grow in dry, coastal areas on cliffs, emerged coral reefs, rocky gluches, and areas of lava flow (Bruegmann 2003). Preferred soil substrates include coral, basalt, and rocky soils at 100 meters in elevation (Herring 2001).

Ecological Relationships

The rare endemic Blackburn's Sphinc moth feeds on the nectar of this shrub's flowers (Native Plants Hawaii 2009). Other native moths may have pollinated this shrub in the past, as it blooms in the evening (Culliney 1999).

Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Butterflies & Moths
Moths Confirmed Pollinator Link
Moths Confirmed Pollinator Link
Lead Institution State Reintroduction Type Year of First Outplanting
Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife Hawaii Reintroduction 2015

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