Forest Plants

This category contains 20 posts

Ohia Lehua

Scientific Name: Metrosideros polymorpha

Hawaiian Name: Ohia Lehua, Ohia

The Ohia is one of the most common Native Hawaiian Tree. An attribute to this  plants commonality is that it can be found in a wide range of habitats and can range from small shrubs to 98 foot trees.  This plant has  distinct flowery tuffs that come in colors of red, pink, orange, white and yellow.  The flowers are also sacred to the Hawaiian Lava god Pele. This common plant also is an essential part of the Hawaiian watershed  The Hawaiians used the wood was used for flooring, firewood, and kapa( bark cloth) beaters.


Lace Fern

Scientific name: Microlepia strigosa

Hawaiian Name: Palapalai, Palai

The palapalai fern is quite attractive and tends to prefer wetter shady areas. This plant was used by the Hawaiians to treat insanity and  remains very  popular in many hula leis and garments. The fern is sacred to the Hula god Laka and contains a fragrance that remains even when dried.


*Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Cordyline terminalis

Hawaiian Names: Ki, Ti

This plant was another introduction by the Hawaiians  to  Hawaii.  They used the Ti plant had a wide range of uses, ranging from, wrappings for food, thatching, medical purposes,  plates, and clothes.  The plant also was considered sacred to the god of agriculture ( Lono) and the godess of hula (Laka). An incredible demonstration of the use as a rain coat can be found here. 


* Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Colocasia esculent

Hawaiian Name: Kalo

This plant represented the God Kane who the Hawaiians considered the creator of all life. The tuber provided that life for the Hawaiians, because of it’s use as by far the common staple of Hawaiian diet. Taro is purple potato like starch that was often ground into poi(akin to mashed potatoes). The Hawaiians went to great lengths to cultivate this plant creating aqueducts and massive rock wall terraces using 100’s of thousands of rocks.

Bird Nest Fern

Scientific Name: Asplenium nidus

Hawaiian Name: Ekaha, Akaha

This is a unique looking plant with large banana leaf like fronds that take the shape of a birds nest.  The Ekaha can often be found growing in rock crevices, or out of the branches of trees. The Hawaiians used this plant for medicine and the fronds were woven into Lau Hala mats.


* Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Hibiscus tiliaceus

Hawaiian Name  Hau

The Hau plants normally looks like a twisting mess of curved branches and 5 pedaled flowers. These curved branches were often used in creating outriggers for canoes due to it’s shape and light weight. The plant was and still is very common and it’s bark was the primary plant used by the Hawaiians for cordage. However, the wood proved even more valuable to the Hawaiians as they would vigorously rub a smaller piece in a grove of a larger Hau branch to create fire. ( Photo by Forest and Starr)


* polynesian introduced

Scientific Name: Pandanus tectorius

Hawaiian Name: Hala, Pu Hala

This plant is easily recognizable through its droopy leaves and the pineapple like appearance of it’s fruit. The mangrove like bottoms allows the hala to filter out small amounts of salt water and survive well on the coastline. The Hawaiians main use of this plant was it’s leaves. The leaves were used to weave, mats hats, plates, blankets, bags but most importantly they wove the sails of their voyaging canoes that carried them the thousands of miles to and from Hawaii.

Paper Mulberry

* Polynesian Introduced

Scientific Name: Broussonetia papyrifer

Hawaiian Name: Wauke

The Hawaiians did not have cotton or mammal hair to weave cloth so instead they relied or bark cloth(Kapa). The Wauke was the primary plant he Hawaiians used for making such cloth.  They used Kapa and the Wauke for bedding, ceremonies, clothes, and wrapping the bones of their ancestors.   The Hawaiians cut the side branches off  until it grew to about 4 feet high. At that point they cut it down and  stripped off it’s bark. The bark was then soaked it water,  before being pounded into Kapa cloth.

Hawaiian soapberry

Scientific name: Sapindus Saponaria

Hawaiian Name: Manele, A’e

These trees can grow to the height of 80 ft tall and have an attractive leaf spread. The Hawaiians did not use the wood for lumber very much due to it’s weak strength. Instead the Hawaiians relied on the seeds for leis and the fruit was crushed and used as a soap.


Scientific Name: psydrax odorata

Hawaiian Names: Ohe’e, Alahe’e

The Alahe’e was once very common in dry forests, and unlike many native plants, remains relatively common. The leaves are glossy green and hold out well against drought.  The strong yet relatively light wood was used as digging stick ( ‘o’o) . These digging sticks were the primary farming tool of the Hawaiians and were used as a shovel and crowbar all in one.