The Lehua is known as Pele’s Flower
The Ohia Lehua Tree has been sacred to the Hawaiian people since ancient times. It is usually associated with the volcano deity Pele and often mentioned in legends, hula, songs, and chants.
The Hawaiian Islands are home to five species of Ohia Lehua that are endemic to the islands, meaning they are found no where else in the world.
Native Hawaiians used to make a medicinal potion out of the Ohia Tree’s bark and leaves. It was meant to spark a strong, passionate, inward fire to grow, bloom, and rejoice in life.
The Ohia Lehua is found in all Hawaiian ecosystems from the very dry desert to lush native rainforests. It may occur as a small shrub or a tall tree and everything in between.
Ohia Lehua is a species of flowering evergreen tree in the myrtle family.
This extremely variable species may be mature and flower when only a few inches tall in bogs but may reach towering heights in other habitats. It grows from sea level right up to the tree line at elevations of 2,500 m (8,200 ft).
Ohia exist in various environments. They do best where the rainfall is 39-118 inches a year, but can grow in dry forests that receive as little as 16 inches of rain or in bogs that get more than 390 inches of rain a year.
In favorable situations, on moist, deep soils, Ohia grows to 20–25 m (66–82 ft) high and some up to 100 feet in height. This photo of Ohia forest was my backyard when I lived in the Kaloko Cloud Forest above Kailua-Kona.
The native Ohia grows easily on lava, and are usually the very first first form of life to grow on new lava flows.
Vital to Hawi’i’s natural ecosystem the Ohia provides an essential food source for native birds and insects.
Nectar from Hawaii’s rare flowers produce some distinctive and flavorful honeys. Since the flavor of honey depends on what the bees are foraging on, certain honey becomes unique. The Lehua blossom, which blooms in late May and June, is used for a single-floral honey that is a rare, white, finely grained, chewable honey.
Apapane form small flocks when foraging through the canopies of Ohia Lehua trees, drinking nectar from the flowers and simultaneously pollinating them. They never forage on the forest floor.
Lehua blossoms are actually clusters of flowers that have long stamens and pistils. When a cluster of buds flower at the same time, hundreds of long stamens and pistils shoot out together to produce the classic lehua pom-pom.
Many native Hawaiian traditions refer to the Ohia tree and the forests it forms as sacred to Pele, the volcano goddess, and to Laka, the goddess of hula.
Hula and mele chants are the ancient way that Hawaiians tell their stories, pay reverence to nature, and unite mind and body with the spirit of all creation.
A story of Pele, Ohia and Lehua
The legend says that one day Pele met a handsome warrior named Ohia. The two are attracted to each other but Ohia had already pledged his love to another. Pele proposes that they marry, but still Ohia resists her out of love for his betrothed, Lehua. Pele is enraged by the rejection. Ohia had not recognized Pele in her human form until he looks into her eyes and sees red fire.
Pele was furious when Ohia turned down her marriage proposal. “You have a heart of wood,” she says and immediately turns him into a twisted tree.
Meanwhile, Lehua wanders the forest searching for her lover, not knowing what has become of him. Passing a certain tree, she feels his mana. Lehua falls to the ground, cries, and pleads with the gods.
The gods decided it was an injustice to have Ohia and Lehua separated. They take pity on Lehua but do not have the power to bring Ohia back as a man. Instead they turn Lehua into the red flower that blossoms on his tree so that the two lovers would be forever joined together.
One must never pick a lehua flower; it would mean pulling the lovers apart.
Plants, the land, rain, the ocean and all of nature are integral parts of Hawaiian spirituality. Chants and hula carry on the legends and history of the Hawaiian people and help Hawaiians retain a connection to their ancient past.
The red Lehua flower is the official flower of the Big Island of Hawaii.
There are many natural wonders that enrich our world.
Aloha Nui Nui, Dohn