ko’oko’olau (Bidens spp.)

Description

ko’oko’olau (Bidens spp.) is a medicinal native Hawaiian plant. The two species I will describe are Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis, and Bidens hawaiensis, both endemic to Hawaii Island. There are over 200 species of Bidens worldwide, with many of them being highly medicinal. Medicinal properties include: promotion of good health, cleanse the body, prevents: strokes, diabetes, constipation, stomach, and liver problems. Basically good for everything, do some more research to identify more medicinal properties. This plant is also highly ornamental!

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Bidens hawaiensis

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Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis

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Propagation

ko’oko’olau grows well from seed or cuttings. I prefer to grow them from seed so they have a stronger root system, as they tend to fall over when they get large.

Surface sow seeds and they should germinate within two weeks.

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sprouted seed

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keiki awaiting transplant

Care

It would be safe to call ko’oko’olau a weed, as it propagates readily and grows quickly. Needing no care at all. I have noticed ants love farming on menziseii but it doesn’t seem to affect them.

They prefer full sun but will grow in part shade. These two varieties grow from the coastline to about 8000’. And need good drainage, meaning add lots of cinder into the soil mix. Or grow them on straight cinder or straight lava like they grow in the wild!

Did I mention they are frost, drought, heavy rain, scorching sun, and high winds tolerant? Yeah, grow ko’oko’olau anywhere and everywhere!!

Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis grows to about 15’ with the largest trunk diameter I’ve seen is over 5 inches!

Bidens hawaiensis grows to about 6’ in a more shrub like habit.

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Eating/Preparing

Grab a few leaves and throw them in boiling water. You could also dry the leaves first, 3 cups water to 1 tablespoon of dried leaves.

Where to obtain planting materials

I highly recommend sourcing seeds or cuttings from your local species as the islands of Hawaii contain 19 endemic species. Please grow the correct species, as keeping genetics pure will allow these species to continue to thrive in their endemic habitat. As some of these species are rare, it would be wonderful to promote and propagate them in the correct environment and hopefully seeds will spread and become more naturalized and hopefully spread from cultivated specimens and retake their landscapes.

If you live in puna contact me for a seed source. I will share when they are in season.

My Garden

I first learned of Bidens menziesii while working on Mauna Kea replanting the high elevation forest. Working closely with this plant gave me an appreciation of this species. On the mountain this seems to be the fastest growing species, making it the pioneer plant the mountain needs to become reforested once again. This is a keystone species that we plant with Sandalwood, as the host plant. This plant also goes to seed within half a year and sets seed vigorously. Perfect for a restoration plant. In the forest at home this plant grows well, but has not flowered yet. Possibly due to the amount of shade it receives.

I’ve only been growing Bidens hawaiensis for a little while now and do not have quite as much experience with it. Although it has already flowered, I was not able to catch seeds because the rain knocked them off.

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ko’oko’olau growing under mamane tree on mauna kea

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ko’oko’olau growing in the forest at home with hō’awa

Happy Gardening!

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4 thoughts on “ko’oko’olau (Bidens spp.)

  1. Pingback: Rapid Resilient Food Systems | Tropical Self-Sufficiency

  2. I have a nicely growing Ko’oko’olau that I bought as a sapling at Home Depot. It is super healthy in appearance, but has never flowered. Yours seemed to flower early, have they kept it up. Is it perhaps a different Bidens species? I’m going to try it as a tea, will report back, unless …

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    • yep my bidens hawaiensis is currently flowering, hasnt set seed yet though. i did lose all of my bidens during the eruption but i got another one from a friend and its been flowering for about a month now. i replanted bidens menziseii but it hasnt flowered yet, but my other ones of that specie never flowered in the almost two years i was growing it. they flower within 1 year on mauna kea though. what kind of sunlight does yours receive? bidens is pretty much a sun lover so i would imagine that would promote flowering. i drink the menziseii pretty regularly and its delicious!

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      • Yes, great subtle tea. Mine gets about 5-6 hours per day of sunlight. Leaves look good, and it continues to fill out, but no flowers in about 6 months. I’m going to try to grow a cutting on the other side of my home where there’s more sunlight, see if it make a difference. Thanks for the info, great blog.

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