Unlike the more familiar Hawaiian flowers such as Ginger, Bird of Paradise, Anthurium, Hibiscus, and Plumeria (all either introduced or cultivated) the official flower of the Big Island is a native – the red Ohi’a Lehua.
Legend has it that one day Pele met a handsome warrior named Ohi’a and she asked him to marry her. Ohi’a, however, was already in love with Lehua. Pele was angry when Ohi’a turned down her marriage proposal, so she turned Ohi’a into a twisted tree. Lehua was devastated. The gods felt badly for her and decided it was wrong to have them separated. So they turned Lehua into a flower on the Ohi’a tree so that the two lovers would be together. Hawaiian lore says that if you pluck this flower you are separating the lovers, and that day it will rain.
The Ohi’a Lehua is love!
“It’s a tough plant, part of the Myrtle family, and well-adapted to its environment. In difficult…soils, like former lava flows, it’s a twisted shrub struggling to grow in what seem to be impossible conditions. The Ohi’a Lehua barely waits for the lava to cool before finding its way to prosper… In richer soils, it can become a tree nearly 100 feet tall.” (Jill Staake, Birds and Blooms, 2016)
Ohi’a Lehua is strong!
“The Ohi’a Lehua blossom produces a smooth, white honey that is thick and creamy. It is most distinguished for its texture, which is creamy and yet slightly crystallized. The flavor is sweet, but not overpowering. The taste could be described as floral, rather than herbal, with undertones of salted caramel, and more distinctive overall than other light honeys such as clover or kiawe/mesquite.” (SlowFoodUSA)
The Ohi’a Lehua is sweet!
The University of Hawaii Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture is spearheading an outreach to educate Islanders about a threat to these trees. Locals and lovers of local flora can visit this page for details on efforts to preserve this legendary and important native tree.
The Ohi’a Lehua is resilient!
“HOO-MAU v. To be constant; to be immovable; to perpetuate; to make fast, as an anchor in sand or rocks; to keep perpetually in action; to persevere; to go forward…” (Hawaiian Dictionary, ulukau.org)