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LEEA guineensis

Image of Leea guineensis

Carol Cloud Bailey



Botanical Name

LEEA guineensis

Plant Common Name

Hawaiian Holly, Mali-mali, West Indian Holly

General Description

Sometimes listed under the old but descriptive name, Leea coccinea, this tropical evergreen shrub to small tree offers showy foliage, flowers and fruits all year round. It naturally exists in the forest understory of tropical Africa, Madagascar, India and Myanmar (Burma) but has become established in other tropical regions, such as Hawaii. The generic name Leea honors Scottish plantsman and author of the seminal Introduction to Botany (1760), James Lee (1715-1795). This fast-growing, erect plant tolerates considerable shade and thrives in moist soils with relatively poor fertility. It is favored as a landscape shrub for frost-free areas due to its beauty and ease of growth. The cultivar 'Rubra' is most commonly cultivated and offers purplish-red foliage as well as red to orange flowers and fruits.

The bright to deep green feathery leaves of West Indian holly are pinnately compound. Each leaf comprises (2 or) 3 or 4 glossy, elliptical leaflets with toothed edges. New growth is very light green and contrasts nicely with darker older growth. The leaves are supported by willowy upright stems that are somewhat smooth, woody and grayish. Dense, rounded or domed, reddish panicles of tiny starry orange-red to orange flowers are most prolific from spring to summer but can appear year round. These are followed by globose fruits that turn from nearly black to bright or rusty red; these appear in greatest abundance from late summer through winter.

West Indian holly is a true understory tropical that grows best when provided warmth and shade. In fact, it thrives in heat and humidity. For best performance, provide average soil with regular moisture and a neutral to slightly acid pH. It is not drought tolerant, so refrain from planting it in arid climates. Fertilize regularly for best floral show and prune only sparingly on an as-needed basis. Leea species are easily propagated from cuttings or fresh seed. There are some toxicity problems with the foliage of this plant; leaves may cause dermatological problems when touched and are toxic if ingested. Be sure to always wear gloves when handling West Indian holly.


  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 8

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2

  • Plant Type


  • Sun Exposure

    Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    6'-24' / 1.8m - 7.3m

  • Width

    3'-15' / 0.9m - 4.6m

  • Bloom Time


  • Native To

    Africa, Madagascar, Eastern Asia, India

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage


  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate


  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit


  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest


  • Flower Color

    Red, Orange, Rose, Orange Red

  • Fruit Color

    Orange Red, Copper, Black

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Light Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Light Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green, Light Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green, Light Green, Dark Green

  • Bark Color


  • Fragrant Flowers


  • Fragrant Fruit


  • Fragrant Foliage


  • Bark or Stem Fragrant


  • Repeat Bloomer


  • Showy Fruit


  • Edible Fruit


  • Showy Foliage


  • Foliage Texture


  • Foliage Sheen


  • Evergreen


  • Showy Bark


Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture


  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Foundation, Mixed Border, Screening / Wind Break, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns


  • Invasive


  • Attracts

    Birds, Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing