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‘Ōhi‘a Lehua: The Beautiful and Sacred Tree of Hawai’i

Hawai’i is a remarkably special place. Full of breathtaking natural beauty and never ending island views, Hawai’i brings forth some of the most unique trees and greenery you’ll find throughout the entire world. One such tree is the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua. Native to Hawai’i, the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua tree delivers bursting red blossoms that only enhance the natural radiance of the islands. It is among one of the first plants to grow on new volcanic lava flows, making it particularly unique. Ōhi‘a Lehua is a vital component of the Hawaiian ecosystem in more ways than one. Read on to learn more about its value, the role it plays in supporting rainforest health, and the threat it is currently under.

What is the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Tree?

Planting trees of any kind is a great way to promote the preservation of Earth’s natural resources, but ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua trees in particular do something different. These trees are distinctive in the way they contribute to a greener, more sustainable rainforest in Hawai’i. Not only are they providers of beautiful and luscious red flora, but they are also integral to new rainforest growth.

Their existence helps maintain Hawai’i’s rainforests because they are a food source and home/habitat for many other species. Native Hawaiian birds and other wildlife feed on ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua trees and their surrounding flora. Additionally, these sacred trees help retain water and benefit water conservation on the islands. They also help present erosion and watershed loss by allowing rainfall to seep into the ground and replenish Hawaiian aquifers.

The History of the Sacred Tree of Hawai’i

Not only is the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Tree significant to Hawai’i’s ecosystem; it is also a pillar of Hawaiian culture and history. Hawaiian mythology tells the story of ‘Ōhi‘a and Lehua, two young lovers who created this sacred tree. As with all mythology, however, there was an issue. The volcano Goddess named Pele was also in love with ‘Ōhi‘a, but ‘Ōhi‘a had already given his heart to Lehua. Pele took out her anger by transforming ‘Ōhi‘a into a twisted tree. This took ‘Ōhi‘a away from Lehua, which left her crestfallen. To remedy the situation, the other Gods turned Lehua into a blooming red flower to be placed on top of the ‘Ōhi‘a tree, allowing the two young lovers to unite and remain together forever. The legend says that when you pick a Lehua flower from an ‘Ōhi‘a tree, it signifies separating the lovers from one another, which brings tears in the form of rain.

In addition to the romantic and charming story of the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua tree are the ways in which it can be used for practical purposes. The ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua tree has a rich, warm colored wood that has been used to make weapons as well as everyday tools like poi boards and kapa beaters. The Lehua flowers are regularly seen in Hawaiian lei, hula, and as symbolism in storytelling.

The Endangered ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Tree: What to Know

Beautiful things are meant to be preserved, but unfortunately the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua tree is under attack by a deadly fungus. The fungus Ceratocystis fimbriate has rendered these native Hawaiian trees endangered. Exposure to this fungus results in Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD), which threatens the trees’ existence. This fungus permeates and kills ‘Ōhi‘a trees quickly. Without intervention, the history, culture, and environmental benefits that come from these trees could be completely wiped out.

This is concerning not only for inhabitants of Hawai’i, but also for those dedicated to preserving Earth’s natural resources. While the threat of ROD is serious, so are the people of Hawai’i about stopping it in its tracks. There are several initiatives already underway to combat the endangerment of trees native to Hawai’i. There are also ecological pu’uhonua (refuges) such as Limahuli Garden & Preserve on Kaua'i with donation programs in place.  As a general consumer, there are many things you can do to help, perhaps in more ways than you know!

How You Can Help Preserve ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Trees

No matter where you live, whether it’s in Hawai’i or anywhere else around the world, you can do your part to help preserve and protect ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua trees. Some tips to get you started include:

  • Plant an ‘Ōhi‘a tree in your yard.These trees are native to Hawai’i, which means they will thrive in tropical environments. You can plant ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua trees in the ground or in a pot.
  • Stay clean! Practice proper hygiene when out and about in wildlife, especially when you are around ‘Ōhi‘a trees. Clean your gear and brush your feet at the trailhead brushing station before and after hiking around these native trees. Brushing and spraying alcohol ensures you don’t bring anything (specifically the ROD fungus) in or out.
  • Refrain from foraging in the mountains.
  • Keep ‘Ōhi‘a where they are. Do not move ‘Ōhi‘a wood or plant parts of a tree from one location to another.
  • Stay educated and informed! Help spread awareness of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD) disease. This also includes getting involved as a volunteer, donating to an ‘Ōhi‘a preservation effort, and remaining educated on the status of ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua trees.
  • Purchase from Mālie’s ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Holiday Collection.When you shop from Malie’s ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Holiday collection, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Garden and Preserve and the Kaua’i Invasive Species Committee (KISC). The Limahuli NTBG is home to dozens of endangered birds and plants, including the ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua tree, while KISC targets invasive plant and animal species in an effort to preserve Kaua’i’s native biodiversity.

Products in this collection include:

*Please note that all beauty products within this collection are made with 70% organic ingredients. The vegan formulas are cruelty-free and never tested on animals. All products are free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates, petrochemicals, mineral oil, silicone, and gluten.

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Malie’s Commitment to Native Trees of Hawai’i

Malie is and always will be more than a beauty brand. We are proud to bring the highest quality beauty, hair, and home products to responsible consumers all around the world, but that’s not enough. We truly believe that the Earth and Hawai’i specifically have given us so much. As a brand committed to preserving Earth’s natural resources, we feel it is our duty to give back in any way we can. One of the ways we do that is by supporting efforts to stop the spread of ROD.

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You and your loved ones deserve to be pampered with the highest quality skin care, body, and hair care products. But Hawai’i deserves to be pampered as well. We prioritize sustainability by using post-consumer recycled packaging whenever possible. Our products contain natural and organic ingredients and are always cruelty-free.  Our care for Hawai’i runs deep and we hope yours does too.

Support Malie’s ongoing efforts to preserve ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua trees by shopping our ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Holiday Collection today! Mahalo!

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