This can be seen on Makoa Quest’s “Lei Making and Hula” tour.
Ohia lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) is endemic to the six largest islands in Hawaii, where it can be seen just about anywhere up to 8200 feet above sea level. It’s a tough plant, part of the Myrtle family, and well-adapted to its environment. In difficult (or almost no) soils, like former lava flows, it’s a twisted shrub struggling to grow in what seem to be impossible conditions. In richer soils, it can become a tree nearly 100 feet tall. Either way, the small ovoid leaves are accented by powder-puff-like flowers, usually red but ranging to oranges and yellows as well. The blooms are heaviest in spring, but can appear throughout the year.
Pronounced “o-HEE-ah lay-HOO-ah” and properly spelled ʻōhiʻa lehua in the Hawaiian language, this plant has inspired a beautiful legend of steadfast lovers. Hawaiians love to “talk story,” and nearly any resident of the islands can tell you of the jealous goddess Pele, who spotted the handsome man ʻŌhiʻa working in the forests one day and immediately took a fancy to him. Unfortunately for Pele, ʻŌhiʻa was already in love himself, with the delicately beautiful Lehua. He politely ignored Pele’s advances, infuriating the goddess. In her anger, and before Lehua’s eyes, she turned him into a twisted gnarled tree and vanished. Lehua, devestated, turned to the other gods for assistance in restoring her beloved ʻŌhiʻa to her, but Pele’s power was too strong to overcome. Instead, the gods turned Lehua herself into a lovely red flower and set her upon the tree, reunited with her love. Hawaiian legend says that as long as the flower remains on the tree, the weather will be sunny and fair, but if a flower is plucked, the skies will fill with rain, tears of the lovers once again parted.