Latin Name: Freycinetia arborea
Indigenous to Hawai`i, the woody vine often grows alongside the `ōhi`a trees. Found at lower levels, sometimes at sea level, it likes damp and wet climates. The vines shape the trunk and branches of the `ohi`a as it climbs to the top, creating curly, twisting trunks. Growing in the lofty canopies and blooming iridescently, it is considered a symbol of royalty.
The aerial roots make hīnaʻi hoʻomoe iʻa (fish baskets), hīnaʻi hoʻoluʻuluʻu (fish traps), and mahiole iʻe
(aliʻi helmets). A clipping of vines, leaves or flowers are placed on the kuahu hula (hula altar).
In ceremony, the `ie`ie is the first of all plants set on the kuahu,
representing the highest rank within the forest.
Scientific Name: Metrosideros polymorpha
The ‘ōhi’a is an endemic plant found on all of the main islands except Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe. `Ōhi`a
are found mainly at higher elevations, while occasionally growing along the coast and in lowland dry
forests. They can be found from sea level all the way up to around 6,000 feet.
One of the first trees to colonize new lava flows, they are very important to our water systems.
Flowers, leaves, and bark gather mist and rain, delivering it to our aquifers. `Ōhi`a, to gather, is the
main function of this tree.
The new sprouts, liko, are chosen for lei for hula kahiko. Budding in many different colors -
orange, plum, charcoal, chartreuse - is the metaphor of the perspective for hula. Sprouting, budding,
blossoming persona of the forest, the dancer becomes the tree in the uplands. Liko is the symbol of
children or a new beginning.
`Ōhi`a is the second highest of the kinolau hula. Lei are made of the youngest leaf buds and
blossoms. “Ulu ka `ōhi`a, a lau ka wai... The `ohi`a grows, a leaf holding water...”
Scientific Name: Microlepia strigosa
Palapalai is an indigenous fern native to Hawai`i. Found on all the main islands in both damp and
dry forests, they grow near sea level and upwards to about 5,000 foot elevation.
Fronds are very soft and are usually light to medium green in color. Medium sized ferns grow to be about 2-3 feet tall. Individual blades and midrib are usually very hairy.
Palapalai rank highly within the forest as it functions as keeper of the moisture and dampness in the understory. This bank of water insures that the roots of the trees in the canopy are constantly nourished.
A very important plant in hula, it is kinolau to Laka, the goddess of hula. Its placement on the kuahu (hula altar), as third highest, is most often offered in lei form. The lei is an important embodiment as dancers will often be decorated with palapalai for hula kahiko.
Scientific Name: Sphenomeris chinensis
Lacy light green, pala`ā is found in many environments throughout the islands.
Around the forests of Kilauea Volcano, the fern grows in the shade of the `ōhi`a alongside of the `ōhelo berry and the `lei. Amongst the grasses of the pasturelands or hanging from the pali where the winds blow strong, the fern is found dancing at the lower elevations. Deep within the rainforest, youʻll find it with long fronds.
Pala`ā is one of the plants that begin to green the lava flows. The fern is one of the requirements in Hi`iakaʻs work as a healer, as her pā`ū of pala`a ferns was necessary to have in the revival of Lohiauʻs life. The pala`ā is mentioned often in the saga of Pele and Hi`iaka. In the battle at Pana`ewa, the pa`u helped Hiiaka traverse the forest of the great mo`o and destroy him.
Itʻs rank on the kuahu hula is fourth. Lei pala`ā is the symbol of revivification. Placement on the
kuahu represents a renewal of honor and acknowledgement.
Scientific Name: Acacia Koa
The koa lives at 1,000 feet to the 7,500 foot level, growing sometimes over a hundred feet tall. It
is one of the tallest native trees in the forest, sought especially for its trunk in building canoes. It is
endemic to Hawai`i, growing on the five main islands.
The sickle shaped phyllodes attracts the moisture and drips down to the understory. This management of water from tree tops down to its roots is its function in the greater forest. Itʻs protective canopy is a symbiotic relationship with its forest community.
Placed on the kuahu, the koa incites inner strength. It symbolizes the fearlessness to dance. A lei of
koa leaves, a branch of flowers, or its tree trunk are placed on the kuahu hula. Ranked as number
five of the kinolau hula.
Scientific Name: Cheirodendron trigynum
Living amongst `ōhi`a and koa, the `ōlapa tree thrives in the damp, wet forest. Itʻs light green leaves,
dancing in the slightest breeze, has a unique smell. Names and species vary slightly from island to
island, `ōlapa on some, lapalapa on others. Endemic to Hawai`i, the trees are found on all islands
except for Kaho`olawe.
The leaves are opposite on the branches, dividing into three to five small leaflets. Shapes vary from
oval or oblong, some wider than other species. Flowers are numerous on leaf axils. Fruits form after
the flowers bloom. The leaflets, knotted together, make the lei hīpu`u.
On the kuahu hula, the olapa is the sixth kinolau. Lei `ōlapa represents the greater forest and the
movements of the dancer.
Scientific Name: Alyxia stellata