In Hawaiian religion, the ʻilima flowers are associated with Laka, the goddess of the hula, and the plant's prosrate form with Pele's brother, Kane-ʻapua, the god of taro planters. Lei made from ʻilima were believed to attract mischievous spirits (thus its alternative name, ʻāpiki), although some considered them to be lucky.
The flowers are small, 0.75–1 in (1.9–2.5 cm) in diameter; have five petals; and range from golden yellow to orange in color.
ʻIlima grows from 6 inches (150 mm) to 10 feet (3.0 m) tall in prostrate (beach growing) and erect (upland shrub) forms. Lowland ʻilima, known as ʻilima papa, has silver-green foliage; mountain varieties have smooth, green foliage. Leaves can be long and narrow or rounded or heart-shaped with finely to coarsely serrated leaf margins. Flowers may be solitary or occur in small clusters.
Native Hawaiians used ʻilima flowers to make lei, and it is possibly the only plant cultivated specifically for lei-making in ancient Hawaiʻi. About 1,000 ʻilima blossoms are needed to make one strand of a lei. ʻIlima is now planted as a commercial crop for flowers and garlands in Hawaiʻi and Kiribati; where it was once seen as only for use in lei for royalty, but it now can be worn by anyone.
The flowers are sometimes also used as a food garnish, and flowers and tender meristems are sometimes used to scent coconut oil in Nauru. The stems are used in weaving rough baskets, floor coverings, and in house thatching. The bushes are used to help prepare swamp taro beds in Hawaiʻi, and dried leaves and flowers are used as fertilizer, mulch, and sometimes compost in Kiribati.S. fallax is sometimes used as a groundcover in tropical areas.
Traditionally, ʻilima was used medicinally to ease pregnancy and as a mild laxative. The flowers were used in magic, particularly love magic; for example, in Kiribati S. fallax flowers were mixed with coconut milk and bark from Premna serratifolia trees to promote true love.
^USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Sida fallax". The PLANTS Database (plants.usda.gov). Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
^"Native plants of the Marshalls". Republic of the Marshall Islands Biodiversity Clearing House Mechanism. RMI Office of Environmental Planning and Policy Coordination (OEPPC). April 2004. Retrieved 7 September 2019.