ʻŌhiʻa Lehua

December 20, 2022

“Ka ua Noelehua o Wai‘ale‘ale” – The name of a misty rain that engulfs the lehua blossoms located on Waiʻaleʻale, Kauaʻi.

‘Ōhi‘a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) is a common native hardwood tree that is endemic to Kauaʻi and the main islands of Hawaiʻi, but the legend behind the tree is anything but common. Thriving in habitats ranging from sea level to 8,000 feet, ʻōhiʻa can also grow in areas of lava rock deserts and dense wet rainforests. Its flowers are distinct petals that range in color from fiery red to bright yellow. Native Hawaiian forest birds such as the ʻAkepa and ʻIʻiwi depend on ʻōhiʻa trees for shelter, food, and nesting sites.

Traditionally, the trunks and hardwood of the ʻōhiʻa tree were used to fashion items such as papa kuʻi ʻai (poi boards) ihe (spears) and iʻe kuku (kapa beaters). Liko (buds) lehua (flowers) and lau (leaves) were used to make lei for hula or hoʻokupu (offerings.) The Hawaiian goddess Pele is commonly associated with ʻōhiʻa lehua and there is a moʻolelo or legend associated with this tree.

The story passed on from each generation is of ‘Ōhi‘a and Lehua; two young lovers. Pele became enticed with the handsome ʻŌhiʻa, and became outraged when he denied her advances. As punishment, she transformed the him into a tree. When Lehua witnessed what Pele had done to her lover, she was heartbroken. Lehua prayed to the gods to allow for her and ʻŌhiʻa to be together again. The gods granted her request and reunited the lovers by transforming Lehua into a flower placed on the ʻōhiʻa tree’s limbs. From that moment on, ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua have been inseparable!  It is believed until this day that whenever a lehua flower is picked, rain will come representing the separated lovers’ tears.

On your next to the Farm at Hōkūala or to the uplands of Kōkeʻe, be on the lookout for the ʻōhiʻa lehua tree and remember what happens if you pick its beautiful flowers!