ʻŌhiʻa Lehua - Maui Ocean Center
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ʻŌhiʻa Lehua

ʻŌhiʻa Lehua

Common name: None 

Status: Endemic 

Scientific name: Metrosideros polymorpha

Where to Find: Mesic forests and new lava fields 

The ʻōhiʻa lehua is the most common native tree in Hawaiʻi. Often called a pioneer plant, they are one of the first species to colonize fresh lava fields and excel at making soil more habitable for other plants. ʻŌhiʻa lehua is also responsible for keeping water within forested areas. Their leaves are excellent at catching fog and making the water accessible for other plants. The nectar of these flowers is a common food source for many forest birds, and this combination of factors makes this tree a keystone species.

In addition to their ecological importance, they are also culturally significant. This tree is sacred to Pele, goddess of volcanoes, and Laka, goddess of hula. The fiery red blossoms are perfect to make lei, and were often used to adorn hula dancers.

In addition to lei making, this tree has many other traditional uses. As one of the few hardwood trees available prior to western contact, it was used to construct rafters for hale (homes), and decking/seats for waʻa (canoes). Wood could be used to make kapa (cloth) beaters, poi boards, and weaponry. Leaves could be used as a medicinal tea to treat childbirth pain. This tree is versatile not only in the habitats it can survive in, but also with the uses it can provide.

Did You Know?
Hawaiian culture dictates that it is kapu (forbidden) to pick ʻōhiʻa flowers on one's journey into the forest, they can only be picked while on the way out. If blossoms are picked too early, it can cause a rainstorm to form and make your trip home far more difficult. 
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