HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When you drive through a neighborhood, what flowers do you often see? Hibiscus, gardenias and plumeria are fairly common, and we can't forget the colorful bougainvillea. As for trees, mangos, avocados and a plethora of palm types are standard fare. But on occasion, if you happen to be the right neighborhood at the right time you might get a chance to see something special; an ohia lehua in full bloom.
Ohia lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees are the backbone of the Hawaiian forest, and once ranged from the mountaintops to the coastal plains. As a pioneer species, it is among the first plants to grow across the cooled lava fields of our islands and its many forms are suitably adapted to the varying climates and conditions found throughout the state. Their trunks and leaves not only create habitat for countless other species but also effectively capture rain to recharge our aquifers.
From a cultural perspective, 'Ohi'a is very important and has myriad of traditional uses. For example, the colorful flowers and leaf buds are used in lei making, the bark can be used for la?au lapa?au (traditional medicine), and the wood was used to make religious objects. With Hawai?i's long history of large-scale agriculture and the rise of urban development, this keystone of our native ecosystems is largely restricted to the upland forests and a rarity in urban areas.
The 'Ohi'a Legacy Initiative (OLI) is a local grass-roots non-profit organization which aims to transform local communities, build cultural connections, increase forest resilience, and develop a general awareness of native Hawaiian plants by reestablishing 'ohi'a trees in urban Hawaii. Since its formation in 2014, OLI has been looking to take innovative steps to realize their goals.
With support from Malama Manoa, OLI has begun its pilot program to benefit the Manoa community. The combination of Manoa being the ideal habitat for growing 'ohia and the large number of family homes with green space makes the valley a logical selection as a pilot site. OLI's goals are to plant 'Ohi'a trees at 10% of Manoa family households (~350 trees). In addition they are conducting an inventory of the urban ohia planted within the valley. Based off the Manoa pilot project, the inventory can be used as a metric to gauge the effectiveness of OLI's efforts, estimate the population of urban ?ohi?a trees, and better prepare or respond should Rapid Ohia Death be detected on Oahu. In the coming months, OLI will be working with partners in the hope of coordinating a campaign to expand the urban ohia inventory statewide. If individuals wish to register their trees, they can add their trees to the inventory on the OLI website.