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Ulu Kanu: Marsilea villosa

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Why Marsilea villosa?

In March, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish, including the four-leaf clover.  In Celtic lore, these lucky plants offered magical protection.  Well, although it is not a clover, ihiihilau?kea is pretty magical as well.  It shares its name with both a beautiful crater and a strong, skilled, and kind alii wahine who cared for the area in which the crater lies.

More about Ihiihilau?kea

This fern, also called ihiihi and ihi l?au, is endemic to Hawaii.  You might find it in scattered clumps or as a dense mat of interwoven plants, depending on how it competes with other species in the area for limited resources.  When submerged, spores are released into the water and the male and female gametes (reproductive bodies) unite.  However, for the new plants to actually become established, the waters must subside.  Therefore, they are found in dry forest or shrublands that have periodic flooding.  Unfortunately, this lovely, fragile fern is endangered.

How To Grow It

Cutting– Take about 2 to 5 cm pieces of an existing plant with some leaves on it and plant it in soil that will be periodically moist or in water features.  Full sun is best.  Once established, and given the right conditions, a population of marsilea can be self-sustaining.  Of course, since the ferns are endangered and wild populations are few, it would be best to use plants from friends or family or to purchase one from a nursery.  Then you can make as many cuttings as you would like and share the wealth-and luck-with others.



Gustafson, Robert J., et al. Hawaiian Plant Life: Vegetation and Flora. University of Hawai’i Press, 2014.