The hala tree, also known as the screwpine, pineapple tree, or walking tree, is a unique and versatile plant found in tropical and subtropical regions. Its unique adaptation involves the development of stilt-like prop roots. Emerging from the trunk, these roots extend down into the soil, providing additional support and anchoring the tree. This adaptation allows the hala tree to thrive in sandy or rocky soils, where conventional root systems might struggle to establish a firm grip.
The cultural significance of the Hala tree (Pandanus tectorius) in Hawai‘i is deeply rooted in its multifaceted roles within traditional practices, folklore, and spiritual beliefs.
The leaves of the Hala tree, known as lau hala, are traditionally used for weaving. Skilled artisans, often women and children, weave intricate mats, baskets, hats, and other crafts from these leaves. The art of lauhala weaving is not only a practical skill for creating functional items but also a form of cultural expression, creativity, and identity.
In Hawaiian culture, the Hala tree is associated with fertility and prosperity. The tree’s ability to produce sturdy prop roots, anchoring itself in challenging soils, is seen as a symbol of resilience and strength. The Hala tree is considered a guardian of the land, embodying the deep spiritual connection between the people and their environment.
The Hala tree is also linked to Hawaiian deities, further elevating its spiritual significance. For example, in the Puna district, the Hala tree holds special meaning in connection with Pelehonuamea (the volcano goddess) and Kāne (the deity associated with light, rain, and rebirth). These associations deepen the cultural narrative surrounding the Hala tree.
The hala tree produces distinctive, large fruits that resemble pineapples in shape, referred to as “keys” or “coneheads.” Although these fruits are not true pineapples, their appearance may have contributed to the tree’s colloquial name, the “pineapple tree.” While the hala fruit is not commonly consumed, it plays a crucial role in the plant’s reproductive cycle, containing multiple seed pods fused together.
The hala tree possesses a unique and architectural form that adds character to outdoor spaces. Its umbrella-like canopy, formed by long, strap-like leaves arranged in a spiral pattern around the trunk. The leaves of the hala tree are long and leathery and have a glossy texture and vibrant green color.
In landscapes where the tree is intentionally planted, it can serve as a reminder of cultural heritage, connecting individuals to the rich traditions associated with the hala in various cultures, particularly in regions like Hawaii.
Scientific name: Pandanus tectorius