Common name: Tree heliotrope
Introduced and naturalized. Small tree up to 5 m or more in height. Leaves simple, alternate and appearing whorled at branch tips. Blade fleshy, 10-20 cm long, densely silky pubescent (covered with soft hair) on both surfaces. Flowers sessile (lacking stalk) in stiff, widely branching. Calyx deeply divided about halfway into 5 elliptical lobes. Fruits white to green, globose, 3-6 mm long, ultimately dividing into four nutlets. Native to tropical Asia, Madagascar, tropical Australia, Tuamotus, and most of the low and high islands of Micronesia and Polynesia. A modern introduction to Hawai'i. Tournefortia has become naturalized and relatively common in coastal areas on Kure, Midway, and Pearl and Hermes Atolls; Lisianski and Laysan Islands; French Frigate Shoals; and all of the main Hawaiian islands, except Kaho'olawe.
It grows in littoral forest on rocky and sandy coasts, and is particularly common in sandy open habitats of atolls, often being the tree species closest to the ocean. On Midway and other Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Tournefornia serves as nesting habitat for our shrub-nesting seabirds. On Midway, this plant flowers and seeds from May through November.
Since the tree is small, it is not very good for timber, but the wood is sometimes used for making gongs, canoe bailers, tool handles and carved handicrafts, and parts of the tree are reported to be used in native medicines in the Society Islands and Tokelau. The leaves were once used in the preparation of a red dye in Tahiti.