Beautiful ’ohi‘a can grow to 30 feet tall
Description: Of the five species of 'ohi'a recognized, this is the most variable. The leaves of this plant range in length from one-half to 3 inches; they can also be very glabrous, or hairy. The new leaves, or liko, range from dark purple, almost black, to red, gold and everything in between. Some plants bush out, while others grow to more than 80 feet tall.
The 'ohi'a, also known as lehua, is best recognized for its flowers. They are just as variable as the plants. Their color ranges from dark red (lehua 'apane) to yellow (lehua mamo) or even white (lehua kea). I've even seen a flower that was dark red at the base, gradually faded to yellow and finally ended with greenish tips. It was unbelievably pretty.
Distribution: The 'ohi'a is an endemic plant found on Hawaii's main islands except Niihau and Kahoolawe, where they likely grew as well, in the past. Today, the plants are found mainly at higher elevations. There are some places where you can still see them on the coast and in lowland dry forests, but these instances are rare. Originally, their range extended from sea level to about 6,500 feet.
Landscape use and care: Plant 'ohi'a anywhere. It is such a beautiful plant, it deserves to be as dominant in landscapes as it is in the native forests. Once planted, it should be watered daily for three to four months in well-drained soil. After that, watering once every two to three days is sufficient, unless you live in a dry place or near the beach.
Generally, the plant reaches a height of about 15 to 30 feet in landscapes, and can be controlled by pruning, which encourages bushiness.
Stem borers sometimes eat out stems and eventually the whole plant, often killing it. If you see a limb beginning to wither, cut it off immediately to prevent further damage. Currently, a new type of leaf rust is taking its toll on 'ohi'a, mainly the ones with glossier leaves. The rust can be identified by bright yellow-orange markings on upper and lower surfaces, usually on new leaves in combination with leaf deformation. If you notice these symptoms, immediately cut off the infected areas and discard them.
Cultural uses: One of the most important woods in Hawaiian culture, 'ohi'a was extremely versatile: In house construction, rafters and posts were made of it; decking, seats and gunwales of canoes were also made of 'ohi'a; the flowers, flower buds or leaf buds were used in leis; these plants were also used to decorate hula altars for the god Kuka'ohi'a, and religious images called ki'i were also made of 'ohi'a.
co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 259-6580 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org