Kī (Ti leaf) - Maui Ocean Center
Go back

Kī (Ti leaf)

Common name: Ti Leaf

Scientific name: Cordyline fruticosa

Where to Find: Low to mid elevation environments

Status: Canoe (Polynesian Introduction)

Kī is a plant frequently used in landscaping, and a common sight around Hawaiʻi. Prior to western contact, only green kī could be found on the Hawaiian Islands. Polynesians only introduced male sterile kī, so few hybrids could be created. Nowadays, you can find all sorts of variations of kī, in a multitude of colors. 

This plant has an incredible number of different uses. Their water-resistant leaves could be made into raincoats, hula skirts, shoes, and lei. One of the most common uses for this plant is as a food wrap. Kī was not a primary food source, but the roots could be eaten or turned into alcohol. It tastes very sweet so you’d more likely find it as a dessert instead of dinner. 

Kī is also used religiously and culturally. Hoʻokupu is the ʻolelo (Hawaiian language) term for a gift or offering given to gods or ancestors. Oftentimes, these will consist of lei and food wrapped in kī leaf. It is also valued as a charm to ward off evil spirits and people often plant them outside their homes for this purpose. 

Did You Know?
Kī is used to make a type of liquor called ʻokolehao. The Hawaiian name of this alcohol product translates to “iron butt”, a reference to the shape of the iron pots used to brew it.