Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden

Tarenna sambucina (Rubiaceae).

Plantlife Fragment


This name seems to have originally denoted a small but tough and valuable tree, Tarenna sambucina, native to many parts of Polynesia, where it grows mostly in lowland forests. It is not found in Hawaii or Aotearoa, but the name has travelled to both those regions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, it is one of the trees that will grow on impoverished land, like the "Niuean Desert" (fernlands resulting from overcropping and soil impoverishment).

In Tahiti, as the photograph from the naturalist Jean-Yves Meyer's blog (opposite) shows, this tree can also thrive in somewhat extreme environments -- in this case on a narrow ridge on the edge of a rocky cliff populated by shrubby resilient vegetation such as the widespread Pandanus tectorius, and a range of other shrubs and small trees in addition to the manono: he names Allophylus rhomboidalis (Sapindaceae), Alyxia stellata (Apocynaceae), Celtis pacifica (Ulmaceae), Maytenus vitiensis (Celastraceae), Tarenna sambucina (Rubiaceae) and Xylosma suaveolens (Flacourtiaceae) in this particular environment.

In Samoa, scrapings of the bark of Tarenna sambucina are dried in the sun and then mixed with water to provide a remedy for headaches and body aches. In Tonga, it is also a traditional remedy for morning sickness. Its New Zealand counterpart, Coprosma grandifolia, also a member of the Rubiaceae, shares such properties, and has a somewhat similar overall appearance to its Tongan and Samoan namesake.

The Hawaiian manono are members of the genus Hedyotis. The most widely distributed, H. terminalis, thrives best in damp areas within the forest (like its New Zealand counterpart), and is noted for the great variability of its form in different places and situations, where it may be a shrub, liana or small tree (like the one illustrated below) up to 5 metres tall.

In Tahiti and the Marquesas two species of Phyllanthus (Phyllanthaceae, formerly grouped with the Euphorbiaceae) also share the name manono. Their leaves and fruit are reminiscent of the Tarenna, and they also have analogous medicinal properties. The leaves of Glochidium ramiflorum (also called manono in Tahiti, and from the same botanical family as the Phyllanthi) are rich in nutrients and used as a mulch in Micronesia and elsewhere.

Tongan: Manonu (Tarenna sambucina - Rubiaceae)
Niuean: Manono (T. sambucina)
Samoan: Mänunu, Ma'anunu (T. sambucina)
Tahitian: Manono (T. sambucina - Rubiaceae; Glochidion ramiflorum & Phyllanthus manono - Phyllanthaceae)
Marquesan: Manono (Phyllanthus amarus - Euphorbiaceae)
Hawaiian: Manono (Hedyotis terminalis, H. fosbergii & H, hillebrandii - Rubiaceae)
Tuamotuan: Manono (Tarenna sambucina - Rubiaceae)
Mäori: Manono, Kanono (Coprosma grandifolia - Rubiaceae)

Habitat of Tarenna sambucina, Mo'ore'a, Tahiti.

T sambucina
Tarenna sambucina leaves & fruit (Hawai'i)

Hedyotis terminalis (Koke'e Reserve, Kaua'i)

T sambucina
Hedyotis hillebrandii (Limahuli, Kaua'i)

T sambucina
Hedyotis terminalis seedling (Lyon Arboretum, Hawai'i)

T sambucina
Coprosma grandifolia leaves (Te Mära Reo)

T sambucina
Phyllanthus amarus (India)

T sambucina
Phyllanthus sp. leaves & fruit (Haiti)

Further information: The role of Tarenna sambicina in treating morning sickness is discussed in the paper on "Traditional Tongan cures for morning sickness", by Melinda Ostraff et al. (see Bibliography). Jean-Yves Meyer's 2009 blog has an interesting account of an expedition with pupils of the Kamehameha Schools to Mo'ore'a (22-23 June) which traversed areas in which T. sambucina was one of the dominant trees. Its presence in the Niuean forests is discussed in FAO report AD672/E Forest Resources Assessment Working Paper - 051. The Cook Islands biodiversity database has a page about Phyllanthus amarus, and there is an interesting account of the medicinal properties of this plant on the Vietroselle Trading Company (Ho Chi Minh City) site.
Photographs: The photograph of the leaves and inflorescence of Tarenna sambucina is from the Higher Plants and Ferns of the National Park of American Samoa database maintained by the University of Hawaii Botany Department. The Mo'ore'a landscape was photographed by Jean-Yves Meyer (link above). The photograph of Phyllanthus amarus is from the Vietroselle site (see above), and that of the Phyllanthus fruits is from the Diversity of Life database. The other photographs are by RB.

Hue flower

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License.

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License