Scaevola taccada

sea fanflower


Scaevola taccada

(Gaertn.) Roxb. 1814

pronounced:skee-VOH-luh ta-KAH-duh

(Goodeniaceae — the goodenia family)

synonym — Scaevola sericea

Vahl. 1791

pronounced: skee-VOH-luhser-ee-KEE-uh

common names: sea fanflower, native cabbage, pipe bush, sea lettuce tree, beach Naupaka

native 4Scævola was a Roman surname meaning ‘left-handed’; taccada was Latinized from the vernacular name of the genus in Ceylon; sericea comes from the Latin sericeus, ‘silky’. The Hawaiin common name of Naupaka is for a princess who fell in love with a commoner, Kaui, despite the fact that a member of the royalty was forbidden from marrying a commoner. There seemed to be no solution to their dilemma, so Naupaka took a flower from behind her ear, cut it in halves, and gave half to Kaui. "The gods won't let us be together," she said, "so you must go to live down by the water, while I stay up in the mountains." They separated, but, when the naupaka flowers saw how sad the lovers were, they bloomed only in half flowers.

Sea Fanflower is native to the coastal regions of northern Australia and the islands throughout the tropical Pacific and Indian oceans. It is a robust, bushy, evergreen shrub that can grow up to about 3 m tall and about the same width, with a dense, multi-branched mound of light green foliage. On Magnetic island it grows just above the high tide-line on most of our beaches, and seems to contribute to beach stabilization. Because the branches are able to root where they touch the ground, the species can be highly invasive, and it has become a troublesome weed in South Florida, where it was first reported in 1976, apparently introduced from Hawaii. It has established itself on the sand dunes of South Florida beaches, displacing local species, and has become one of the most common coastal shrubs there, often forming dense thickets.

The leaves are large, alternate, shiny, bright green and fleshy, blunt-tipped, and up to about 20 cm long. They are much narrower than they are long, and are broader at the tip than at the base. Often the edges of the leaves roll under.

The shrub flowers for most of the year: dainty, white (some with purple stripes), fan-shaped flowers with 5 petals borne in small clusters at the ends of the branches. They have an irregular shape, with all 5 petals on one side of the flower, giving them the appearance of a fan.

The flowers are followed by fleshy, globular, white drupes between 1 and 2 cm in diameter. These fruits were carried on journeys to be eaten as refreshment. They tolerate sea water and can float on ocean currents for dispersal to other islands, but the seeds will germinate only with fresh water.

Plants of this species growing on the Picnic Bay foreshore often come under severe attack from the Queensland Spotted Pyrgomorph Greyacris produndesculata, many plants being virtually denuded of leaves by these pretty grasshoppers.

The name Pipe Bush is used on Groote Eylandt off the Northern Territory. Long before European settlement of Australia, Indonesian fishermen sailed to the northern coasts of Australia to harvest sea slugs for export to China. The local Aborigines helped to dry the slugs over stone hearths, and were paid in tobacco, which they smoked in pipes made from the hollowed stems of this plant, with empty crabs’ claws inserted as bowls.

The Sea Fanflower is a very important medicinal plant to the Aborigines of the coastal regions. Sore eyes are treated with the juice squeezed from the fruits, which is also used to treat sores and tinea. Both this juice and the stem sap are used to treat stings and bites. The leaves are heated over hot stones and draped over swollen joints. On some of the Pacific Islands, the leaves and roots are used as the basis for medicines to treat stomach ache, coughs, headaches and diabetes.

In the Hawaiian Islands, the fruits or the root bark, mixed with salt, were used to treat cuts, wounds and skin diseases. Local divers rub inside their face masks with the flowers, fruits or leaves to prevent fogging, rather than saliva as is commonly done elsewhere.

In Malaysia, the pith from the branches is used for making rice paper.

The leaves can be cooked as greens, hence the names Native Cabbage and Sea Lettuce.

On some islands, pegs used in boat-building are made from the wood.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken on the Picnic Bay foreshore 2008 - 2015, and in Horseshoe Bay 2013
Page last updated 31st March 2019