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The All-Purpose Beach Naupaka

Originally published in Green Country, Issue 129 (Dec 2017)
Author: Green Power

Beach Naupaka (Scaevola taccada) is a common coastal shrub—so common that you may easily miss it. The oft-overlooked plant, however, is very valuable. It is consumed as food, as medicine, and can be made into different products. It is also used for soil stabilisation and landscaping. To the peoples of the Pacific Islands, the plant is indeed a daily necessity!

Beach Naupaka is a perennial evergreen shrub that is widely distributed across the coasts of the Pacific and Indian Ocean. The coastal environment is harsh, with frequent strong winds, high salinity and burning sun. Yet the species still thrives, as it can root easily with its branches touching the soil. It has thick leaves that can store water, and the wax layer on its leaves also reduces evaporation.

Beach Naupaka is widely cultivated along the coast, to minimise coastal erosion by strong winds and salt. The plant helps to stabilise coastal soil and provides habitats for other plant species. Its beautiful tree form and dense, green leaves make it ideal for landscaping. It is grown not only on beaches but also in parks and along roadsides as it requires minimal care.

Food Reserve

The fruits of Beach Naupaka are slightly sweet and edible. The leaves, though not as tasty, with their high water content, were once staple food of the people in the Maldives, which is now a tourist paradise but was still underdeveloped a few decades ago. Lacking rich soil and resources, the people had to eat the fast-growing Beach Naupaka and other plants on days when crops and fish harvests failed.

Apart from food use, the leaves of Beach Naupaka also contain saponin and coumarin, and are used by Pacific Islanders as medicine to treat small wounds and skin allergies. Upon diluting, the leaf and fruit sap becomes a natural eye ointment that can alleviate inflammation and infections of the eyes. Local people rub the sap on diving masks to prevent fogging. The branches can be made into angling float, while the stem is material for making paper.

The Legend of the Half-Flower

The most characteristic feature of Beach Naupaka is its "half-flower". The five petals form a fan shape that resembles half a flower. There is a sorrowful legend about the flower: a princess of an island, having to separate with her lover who was going out to the sea, tore a flower in two and gave half to her lover. The lover, however, never returned. The sad princess committed suicide for love and turned into the flower, blooming in half along the coast. This beautiful story aside, biologically the half-flower can reduce the chance of self-pollination, and hence increase the species' genetic diversity. This will enhance the offspring's adaptability to the harsh environment of the coast!

Beach Naupaka thrives in the poor coastal environment with its high tolerance to salinity, strong winds and drought
Beach Naupaka is distinguished by its half-flower.
The leaves, fruits, branches and stem are all essential to the daily lives of Pacific Islanders.
The fruits are edible and have a slightly sweet taste.
Beach Naupaka is widely cultivated in coastal areas (Photograph of Hawaii)

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