Cordia subcordata – Kou

Cordia subcordata - Kou (flower)

Cordia subcordata - Kou (flowers and leaves)

Cordia subcordata - Kou (ripe and unripe fruit)

Cordia subcordata - Kou (ripe fruit)

Plant Name

Scientific Name: Cordia subcordata

Common Name: Kou

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial, Evergreen

Growth Habit: Tree

Hawaii Native Status: Native (indigenous), but it was also introduced here by the ancient Polynesians.

Flower Color: Orange

Height: Up to 35 feet (10.7 m) tall, but usually less

Description: The flowers are in small clusters that are partly hidden by the leaves. The individual flowers are funnel-shaped, 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) across, and have 5 to 7 irregular, heavily wrinkled lobes. The flowers are followed by clusters of round to egg-shaped, point-tipped, 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, green ripening to hard, dry, blackish brown fruits containing 4 white seeds. The leaves have rippled margins, prominent pale veins, and are large, green, leathery, smooth and shiny above, hairy on the veins below, alternate, and oval to egg-shaped. The trees are small, upright, and have a rounded, spreading crown and flaky, grooved, grayish bark.

Here in Hawaii, Kou grows in coastal areas and in other sunny low elevation areas.

The very similar Geiger Tree (Cordia sebestena) has fleshy white fruit, red-orange flowers, and matte, rough textured leaves.

Special Characteristics

Canoe Plant – Although a few Kou already existed here, the ancient Polynesians brought the seeds to Hawaii in their canoes. The soft, durable, attractive, banded, fine-grained wood was used to make food bowls, dishes, and utensils because it would not flavor the food like some other types of wood. The old leaves were used to make brown dye. The colorful flowers were used in leis even though they are not fragrant. The seeds were eaten when other foods were scarce.

Edible – The white seeds are edible but flavorless.


Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Asteridae
Order: Lamiales
Family: Boraginaceae – Borage family
Genus: Cordia L. – cordia
Species: Cordia subcordata Lam. – kou

More About This Plant

Hawaii County Distribution Map