Common Name

Hawaiian Name

Scientific Name
Heteropogon contortus


Kalama Garden

Keawe Garden

Whole Plant



Location On Campus

Pili grass can be found at Kalama Garden, as well as the garden outside of the girls dorms, near Keawe gym.

Natural Habitat

Pili grass' natural habitat is dry land up on cliffs and ledges in 700m elevation. It can also be found on rocky slopes, they also require summertime moisture.

Cultural Information

Pili grass is indigenous to Hawai‘i, and was used to thatch the old Hawaiian's hale. It was also used for black dye. Pili means to stick together, it was named pili because of the way it sticks to the neighbors as it grows. Pili grass is rapidly diminishing on O‘ahu and Moloka‘i.

Plant Description


  • Fibrous, meaning there is one main large thick roots which continues to branch out having many slender roots
  • Growth is limited and shallow into the ground


  • Herbaceous


  • Simple leaf
  • 10 cm to 30 cm long
  • 0.6 cm wide
  • Range from bluish green to greenish brown in color


  • Narrow spikes
  • Tipped with twisted reddish brown bristle
  • Bristle about 10 cm long 


  • Outer skin of seeds
  • Green grains
  • Dry fruit
  • Attached to the base of the flower 


  • Seeds of the grain
  • Yellow, tan color
  • Very small 

Life Cycle/

  • Growth period is spring and summer


  • Seeds spread rate is slow
  • Burning supposed to help the growth

Interesting Facts:

  • Can grow up to 91 cm
  • Grows in bunches

Web Site Links


This site will show you information on the tangle head plant, including general description, seedlings, mature plant, roots, florets, etc.


By viewing this web page, you are able to view pictures of the uses of pili grass.

 Heteropogon contortus(Black speargrass)

This site shows a more detailed description on pili grass.



Carlson, Norman K. "Three Grasses' Struggle for Supremacy on the Island of Molokai." Journal of Range Movement: The American Society of Range Management. January 1952. March 2003. <>.

Gustafson, Sohmer R. Plants and Flowers of Hawai'i. Hawai'i: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.

Information on California's Noxious Weeds. Bob Roberson, Branch Chief. 22 Feb. 2001. University of California. 19 March 2003 <>.

Krauss, Beatrice H. Plants in Hawaiian Culture. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.

Lamoureux, Charles H. Trailside Plants of Hawaii's National Parks. Hawai‘i: Hawai‘i Natural History Association, 1976.

Plants Database. USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA. March 9, 2003.

Stone, Charles P., Linda W. Pratt. Hawai'i's Plants and Animals. Hawai'i: University of Hawaii Press. 1994.

Wagner, Warren L., and Deral R. Hervst. Flowering Plants of Hawai'i. Vol. 2. Hawai‘i: Bishop Museum Press, 1990.

Whistler, Arthur. Wayside Plants of the Island. Hong Kong: Everbest Printing Company. 1995.

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