KŌ (Hawaiian Sugarcane) - Maui Ocean Center

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KŌ (Hawaiian Sugarcane)

Hawaiian Sugarcane Varieties


There are a variety of Hawaiian sugarcane that have been developed and cultivated over the years, each with its own unique characteristics. While there are numerous variations, here are some notable Hawaiian sugarcane varieties:


  1. Kō: A traditional Hawaiian sugarcane variety known for its adaptability and versatility. It has been cultivated for centuries and used for both sugar production and traditional practices.
  2. Lāhainā: Historically grown in the Lāhainā region of Maui, Lāhainā sugarcane is recognized for its distinct flavor profile and appearance. It was a prominent cultivar in the sugarcane industry.
  3. Ko‘ko‘o: This variety is associated with the concept of “stubbornness” or “resilience.” It has a reputation for being hardy and resistant to adverse conditions.
  4. Manulele: Translating to “flying bird,” Manulele is a cane often referenced in hana aloha ceremonies, which aim to invoke love in distant individuals. It symbolizes the idea of carrying prayers to a targeted lover.
  5. Mīkokoi: A lighter brown mutant of ‘Manulele,’ Mīkokoi is associated with the concept of nibbling or eating in small portions, resembling salt with poi.
  6. Moano: Named after a pale red color, Moano is often associated with the red goatfish, known for its red color, believed to be caused by the fish consuming lehua flowers.
  7. Nānahu: Also known as ‘‘Akilolo ‘Ula‘ula,’ Nānahu is the red mutant of ‘‘Akilolo.’ It is used in traditional tattoo ink, mixed with charcoal or soot from burnt kukui.
  8. ‘Ōhi‘a: Named after the mountain apple (‘Ōhi‘a ‘ai’), ‘Ōhi‘a sugarcane has deep red and green colors resembling the growth and flowers of the mountain apple.
  9. ‘Oliana: Meaning “Oriental,” ‘Oliana is known for its flowers varying from white to bright pink. It has small, hairy seeds resembling cane seeds.
  10. ‘Uala Lehu: Translating to “ashen or gray ‘Uala,” ‘Uala Lehu is a pale yellow to pale green cane with flesh similar to the ‘ulu (breadfruit).
  11. Uluhui: Also known as ‘Āwela Melemele, Uluhui is equated to ‘Awela Melemele by Moir. It has reported medicinal uses as a salve.
  12. ‘Ula‘ula: Meaning “red,” ‘Ula‘ula is associated with the sacred color in Hawaiian culture. It may denote blood, red kapa cloth, or a variety of kalo with red veins.
  13. Waimea Homestead: Collected at the Wailua Homestead, this cane exhibits an unusual characteristic of having a thin stripe of bright yellow. It is a vigorous producer and is common in backyards on Kauai.
  14. Wai‘ōhi‘a: Named after the juice of the mountain apple, Wai‘ōhi‘a may also refer to the coloration of the mountain apple tree.


History of Hawaiian Sugarcane Cultivation


In the 1820s and 1830s, Western influence, particularly from the United States, began to shape Hawaiʻi’s economic landscape. American entrepreneurs recognized the potential for sugarcane cultivation, given the islands’ favorable climate and soil conditions. The establishment of large sugarcane plantations marked the beginning of an era that would define Hawaiʻi’s economic and social structure.


The plantation era, starting in the mid-19th century, saw the rapid expansion of sugarcane cultivation. The demand for sugar, driven by global markets, led to the establishment of vast plantations across the islands. To meet the growing labor demands, plantation owners brought in waves of immigrant workers from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, and other countries. This influx of diverse cultures left a lasting impact on Hawaiʻi’s demographic and cultural makeup.


Sugarcane cultivation became the backbone of Hawaiʻi’s economy, and by the late 1800s, the islands were among the world’s leading sugar producers. The industry’s success brought economic prosperity but also raised social challenges, including labor issues and the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few elite families.


The decline of the sugarcane industry began in the mid-20th century due to various factors, including changes in global sugar markets, rising production costs, and the shift towards diversified agriculture. Many plantations closed, signaling the end of an era. Despite the decline, the legacy of sugarcane cultivation is deeply embedded in Hawaiʻi’s history, shaping the islands’ cultural heritage and leaving an indelible mark on the socio-economic fabric of the region.


Cultural Significance


In Hawaiian culture, sugarcane holds spiritual importance, featuring in ceremonies and rituals that connect the people with their land. The sweet juice of sugarcane was consumed as a delicacy, and the plant itself was symbolic of sustenance and prosperity. The cultivation and processing of sugarcane on plantations played a pivotal role in shaping the social fabric of Hawaiʻi, fostering a diverse and multicultural community as immigrant laborers from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, and elsewhere contributed to the industry’s growth.


Today, while the economic prominence of sugarcane has waned, its cultural legacy endures in traditional ceremonies, culinary practices, and the memories of those who worked the fields, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural identity of Hawaiʻi.

Hawaiian sugarcane varieties have unique names deeply rooted in the islands' culture and environment. For example, the variety "Manulele," meaning "flying bird," is named after a cane associated with ceremonies intended to cause love in a distant person. The symbolism lies in the belief that the "flying bird" carries the prayers and intentions to the targeted lover.

common Name

Hawaiian Sugarcane

Scientific Name

Saccharum officinarum



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