Once the predominant tree in the natural forests of Halawa, at home in the islands long before Hawaiian settlers arrived, strong ohia with its graceful blossoms named lehua has been a source of inspiration for ancient legends and poetry. The Hawaiians noted that this botanical species had a remarkable capability to adapt to its environment. In one form or another, it grew everywhere. To this day, you can find ohia in almost all of the islands’ varied ecosystems and microclimates, in bogs and dry-land forests, in windward low-elevation areas and high up in the rain jungle of Kilauea Volcano. Ohia may grow in gnarled, tiny, leathery shrubs or in groves of wondrous, smooth-leaved, lanky tall trees. The Latin name, Metrosideros polymorpha, reflects this adaptability of ohia, which belongs to the myrtle family.
Ohia lehua blossoms appear as tufts with rich colors, such as crimson, salmon, garnet, or yellow, but even white blossoms exist. In Hawaiian days, ohia radiated a deep spiritual significance. Ku, the god of war and of forests, was said to assume her form at times. Her hardwood timber was a favored wood for construction works on sacred temple grounds. It remains a prized hard wood for furniture and art today. As medicine, ohia was primarily associated with alleviating the pain of childbirth. Ohia is also used to make musical instruments that accompany the hula dance.
In the legends, most famous is the story of the noble youth ohia and the commoner girl lehua. Their love for each other was strictly forbidden because of their difference in class. After pleading in vain with the elders, in the throes of despair and enchanted by the melancholy of evening mists, the lovers decided to throw themselves off a cliff. But right on the precipice, Pele, the goddess of Hawaii’s volcanoes intervened. She told the lovers that they could spend eternity together if they agreed to this: He would stand firm as a tree. She would be the tree’s dancing blossoms. The couple readily said yes. To this day, the red lehua blossom is dedicated to Pele, and represents the Island of Hawaii. Plucking the lehua flower off its tree may cause the skies to cry.
So look around when you fly amid the trees along the Kohala Zipline course. In the canopy, you may hear the song of Halawa’s native and sacred ohia tree.