Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
*Kökihi, *Kisi
Oxalis corniculata, (Oxalidaceae).
Proto Rarotongan / Mäori *Kökihi from Proto-Polynesian *Kisi, Prostrate, branched herbs, especially Oxalis corniculata


In Hawaii, Tonga and Rarotonga words incorporating derivatives of the root *kisi seem to have been used primarily for the yellow wood sorrel, Oxalis corniculata (which early settlers may have spread to places where it was not native, e.g. Hawai'i), but the same words were also extended to include a few other herbs with similar prostrate form and habits of growth. The Oxalis species was used medicinally in Tonga, for example in the treatment of convulsions, and in Hawaii as a general tonic, among other things. According to Murdoch Riley, the flowers of this and other Oxalis species were used by Maori in salads (Herbal, p. 479).

Interestingly, although the Oxalis species is found natively in Aotearoa, no Maori name seems to have been recorded for this plant, although related species go under a variety of names, such as tutae kähu and tutae käkä (hawk dung and parrot dung respectively). It is not impossible that Oxalis corniculata was originally called kihikihi or kökihi, but the more useful Tetragonia species later gained a monopoly on the name. It is easy to see how the Tetragonia, in New Zealand, and Portulaca species in Hawai'i attracted this name, despite the difference in leaf-form; the flowers of the "tick clover" Desmodium triflorum (also called kihikihi in Tonga) are noticeably different from those of the other species with cognate names, but the plants share the clover-like leaves of the Oxalis, and the prostrate, spreading manner of growth.

All the Hawaiian native species of Portulaca -- P. lutea, P. molokinensis, P. scelerocarpa and P. villosa -- share the name 'ihi, along with the introduced P. oleracea.

Tongan: Kihikihi (Oxalis corniculata [Oxiladaceae] & Desmodium triflorum [Fabaceae])
Rapanui: Kihikihi (A greyish species of lichen)
Hawaiian: 'ihi (Oxalis corniculata; also Portulaca lutea & related species.)
Rarotongan: Kökihi (Oxalis corniculata)
Maori: Kökihi (Tetragonia tetragoiniodes & T. trigyna [Aizoaceae])

Oxalis cornicata
Oxalis corniculata


Desmodium triflorum
Desmodium triflorum (Maui, Hawai'i)

Portulaca lutea
Portulaca lutea (Maui, Hawai'i)

Oxalis cornicata
Oxalis cornicata (Andhra Pradesh, India)

Tetragonia tetragonioides
Tetragonia tetragonioides (Te Mära Reo)

Photographs: The photograph of Oxalis corniculata near the top of the page was taken in Dresden, Germany by Olaf Lellinger; the other one was taken in the Talakona forest, Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, India, by J.M. Garg. Those of Desmodium triflorum and Portulaca lutea are by Forest and Kim Starr. (The links to the species name will take you to the sources on the web.)

Hue flower

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
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