Metrosideros polymorpha

leaf Main Plant Information

Genus

Metrosideros

Species

polymorpha

Varieties

  • dieteri
  • glaberrima
  • incana
  • macrophylla
  • newellii
  • polymorpha
  • pseudorugosa
  • pumila

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Lehua
  • ʻŌhiʻa
  • ʻŌhiʻa lehua

Hawaiian Names

  • Lehua
  • Ohia
  • Ohia lehua

Synonyms

  • Metrosideros collina
  • Metrosideros pumila
  • Nania glabrifolia
  • Nania lutea
  • Nania macropus var. microphylla
  • Nania polymorpha
  • Nania pumila

Did You Know…?

ʻŌhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) is the most common and variable of all native trees. The species name polymorpha, meaning "many forms," is most apropos. Probably no other native Hawaiian plant is found in a greater number of varieties than this one. The sheer number and variations of ʻōhiʻa shrub and tree forms, leaf colors and shapes, and floral colors boggles the imagination!

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status

Endemic

Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Dwarf, Less than 2
  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6
  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Dwarf, Less than 15
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30
  • Tree, Medium, 30 to 50
  • Tree, Large, Greater than 50

Mature Size, Width

The width varies greatly among the many varieties and forms, but generally the canopy is 10 to 20 feet wide. Trees can, however, have a spread of 40 feet or more. [22]

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Provides Shade
  • Screening
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

ʻŌhiʻa are essential trees for native landscapes and are not difficult to grow in urban landscapes provided they are given good sunlight, rich organic soil, and excellent drainage.

They do well under cultivation. Plants that have become root-bound in pots tend to remain stunted for a long time. Consequently, it is best to plant ʻōhiʻa into the ground before it becomes pot-bound. [22]

Since ʻōhiʻa are nearly in constant bloom, they attract numerous bees and other insects. Keep this in mind when choosing planting sites that may be close the entrances & exits to your home.

ʻŌhiʻa are sensitive to root disturbance. A few planting guidelines can help: Dig a larger planting hole than the root ball, perhaps as much as twice as large. Put good drainage material such as black or red cinder in the bottom. When planting ʻōhiʻa never splay out the root ball but gently place in hole as is. Nor should ʻōhiʻa be planted too deep. Soil should never cover the surface area around trunk base. Better to err on the side of planting too high than too low. Water soil thoroughly. A final watering of B-vitamin solution can help to alleviate stress and encourage new root growth. For small plants water everyday until established; larger plants every two or three days should suffice. New signs of liko, new growth, is a key to a successful planting. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

These wonderful trees may be grown in containers if provided with full sun and fertilizer applications at half strength. [6]

ʻŌhiʻa is a quick growing species, but will not develop a significant canopy for many years. They tolerate a fair amount of crowding. [22]

Companion Plants:

Koa, ʻiliahi, kōpiko, and hāpuʻu,* as well as dozens of other native plants, are natural companion plants.

_____

* These plants can be found on this website using the "Browse Plants" feature found at the top. Enter names without diacritics.

Plant Produces Flowers

Yes

leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Showy

Flower Colors

  • Cream
  • Light Orange
  • Orange
  • Pink
  • Red
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

ʻŌhiʻa flower colors include red flowered ʻōhiʻa called ʻōhiʻa ʻulaʻula; while those with dark red flowers are referred to as ʻōhiʻa ʻāpane and lehua ʻāpane, named after the red and black feathered honeycreeper ʻapapane. ʻŌhiʻa with yellow blossoms are known as lehua mamo, named after the Hawaiʻi mamo (Drepanis funerea), an extinct honeycreeper with very few prized yellow feathers, the highest valued color of the early Hawaiians. [3]

Early reports from residents said that some dark-colored ʻōhiʻa flowers near Keahikawelo, Lānaʻi were elele (black) or hāuli (brown), but may have been a very dark shade of yellow. [10]

There are also naturally bi-colored (e.g. yellow/orange) flower forms, pehaps known as Lehua mamo ʻōʻā ʻalani (yellow with orange). [Peter VanDyke, Amy Greenwell Etnobotanical Garden, pers. comm.] And in at least one example, there is an ʻōhiʻa that the flowers open as orange (ʻalani) and then turn yellow (mamo) three days later. [Rick Barboza, Hui Kū Maoli Ola]

Some believe that a pure, or snow white, flower form of ʻōhiʻa exists. [816,23] Hawaiian names do give indication to a wide range of whitish forms: ʻōhiʻa hākea or lehua haʻakea (cream), ʻōhiʻa kea or lehua kea (clear white), and ʻōhiʻa lehua puakea or lehua pua kea (pale). Certainly pale or light yellow (hālena) flower forms are known to exist.  But do any of these names refer to a pure white form as claimed? A true, pure white ʻōhiʻa may be the "holy grail" or the "bigfoot" among our native plants. Hard evidence is required to support the argument of its existence. [15]

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • Sporadic

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves are variable with variety and form in size, color, shape, texture, and with or without fuzz. Specific names have been applied to certain leaf forms. ʻŌhiʻa with very small leaves are referred to as lehua lau liʻi or ʻōhiʻa lau liʻi; ʻōhiʻa with sessile (no petiole) cordate (heart-shaped) leaves are known as lehuakūmakua or ʻōhiʻa kū ma kua. Leaves range beween a half and 3 inches long.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Some ʻōhiʻa are grown mainly for their brilliant liko, or new leaves used for landscaping or cultural uses as lei and haku (lei poʻo). Liko colors can be yellow, orange, pink, red, magenta or purplish.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Caterpillars and Chinese rose beetles can be detructive to new growth (liko). Black twig borer can be a serious problem. Cut off infected material well below the dead area, wrap securely in a plastic bag and dispose of or completely destroy right away. Whiteflies can infest ʻōhiʻa as well.

ʻŌhiʻa is susceptible to attacks by the bright yellow ʻōhiʻa, or guava, rust (Puccinia psidii) especially in wet environments or during the rainy season. This aggressive rust can be a serious problem if not taken care of in a timely manner. At the first sign of ʻōhiʻa rust, infected material can be carefully trimmed off, bagged securely, and disposed of. One suggestion is to put cut pieces in a bottle with a small amount of alcohol before disposing. Then, the plant and any others, including relatives (Eugenia spp., Syzygium spp.), in the area should be treated with a fungicide immediately. [14]

Never add trimmings damaged by ʻōhiʻa rust or black twig borer to a compost pile.

leaf Growth Requirements

Fertilizer

Apply an 8-8-8 or 13-13-13 slow release fertilizer with minor elements every six months.

Foliar feeding in early morning with a water-soluble or an organic fertilizer (e.g. kelp or fish emulsion) at one-half to one-third to the recommended strength monthly has proved beneficial. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

If required, light and judicious pruning can be done with no ill effects on the trees or shrubs. Do not over prune at one time.

Water Requirements

  • Dry
  • Moist

Additional Water Information

Water needs depend much on origin of the ʻōhiʻa and where it is grown in the landscape, but generally requires very good drainage.

Soil must be well drained

Yes

Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

ʻŌhiʻa prefer full sunlight to grow and bloom to their full potential.

Spacing Information

They will tolerate a fair amount of crowding and planted as close as 5 feet a part. They can be thined out many years later as they develop into trees. [22]

Tolerances

  • Drought
  • Wind

Soils

  • Cinder
  • Organic

Limitations

Peformance in coastal sites may be marginal. [22]

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • Less than 150, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • Less than 150, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 4000 to 4999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)

Habitat

  • Epiphyte
  • Lithophyte
  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

ʻŌhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha) can be found from near sea level to over 7,200 feet on most of the Main Islands and often a major component of native Hawaiian forests as dominant or co-dominant trees.

The number of natural habitats where ʻōhiʻa grow is simply staggering. Trees and shrubs can be found in or near coastal sites, dry, mesic and wet forests, wind swept slopes and ridges, arid shrublands, sub-alpine, and even saturated mountain bogs perpetually shrouded by mist where mature flowering ʻōhiʻa may grow only a few inches tall. They can even be commonly seen growing as an epiphyte on hāpuʻu (tree fern). ʻŌhiʻa are often among first to pioneer new bare lava flows providing a safe haven for many plants and animals.

It's no wonder that ʻōhiʻa are the most common of all the native Hawaiian trees!

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻŌhiʻa (Metrosideros spp.) belong to the Myrtle family or Myrtaceae with a current figure at over 5,650 species. [5]

Other non-native relatives, many naturalized in Hawaii, are numerous and include myrtle, tea tree, strawberry guava or waiawī ʻulaʻula, pineapple guava or kuawa, allspice, eucalyptus, melaleuca or paper bark, bottlebrush (Callistemon), and Surinam cherry (Eugenia uniflora)--to name a few. Some of these have become seriously invasives displacing large tracts of native forests with a monoscape of a single species. An extreme example of this is the highly invasive strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) where little vegetation can grow beneath its dense canopy.

Native Metrosideros include five endemic species: Lehua ʻāhihi or ʻāhihi (M. tremuloides), lehua papa (M. rugosa), and three known by the name ʻōhiʻa (M. polymorpha, M. macropus and M. waialealae). But it is the species polymorpha that is by far the most common and widest ranging ʻōhiʻa in the islands.

Other native Myrtaceae members include the indigenous Beach cherry or nīoi (Eugenia reinwardtiana), and two endemics: the endangered Koʻolau eugenia or nīoi (Eugenia koolauensis), and the fairly common ʻŌhiʻa hā (Syzygium sandwicensis).

Etymology

The generic name Metrosideros is derived from the Greek metra, heartwood, and sideron, iron, referring to the very hard wood of these plants.

The specific epithet polymorpha, is from the Greek poly, many, and morphos, forms, in reference to the numerous forms or shapes of this species.

Background Information

As already noted, this paricular species is found in numerous forms. The early Hawaiians recognized these distinctive forms. Among them is the variety pumila which they gave additonal names such as lehua maka noe, lehua neʻeneʻe, and lehua neneʻe.

Several native Hawaiian birds feed on the flowers and among the foliage of ʻōhiʻa. Among them are ʻiʻiwi (Vestiaria coccinea), ʻapapane (Himatione sanguinea), and ʻakohekohe (Palmeria dolei) which feed mostly on the flowers and insects; and foraging among the foliage, ʻakiapolaʻau (Hemignathus munroi), the ʻakialoa's (Hemignathus spp.), and the Black mamo or hoa (Drepanis funerea)--the latter two now extinct. Additionally, the coloration of these birds may have served as camouflague, protecting them in pre-historic times from predators such as the Wood harrier (Circus dossenus) and the stilt-owls (Grallistrix spp.), now extinct, and possibly from the still existing Hawaiian hawk or ʻio (Buteo solitarius). [19]

Early Hawaiian Use

Early Hawaiians had many uses for ʻōhiʻa. The exceptionally hard wood was fashioned into kapa beaters, prepping boards for kapa (lāʻau kahi wauke), poi boards (papa kuʻi poi), musical instruments, idols, spears, mallets, standards of kāhili, house construction, gunwales and interior framework for canoes. [1,4,16,17,18,21]

Lei:

From early Hawaii to the present day, flowers, seed capsules and liko (new leaves) have been used for lei working. Lei ʻōhiʻa, with or without other material, were given names such as lei lehua ʻula (red flowers), lei lehua ʻalani (orange flowers), lei lehua melemele (yellow flowers), and lei liko lehua, made with new leaves. [9]

Medicinal:

A mixture of ʻōhiʻa flowers, the inner bark of the Polynesian-introduced hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus), and a little water were given to women in labor when childbirth pangs became intense. Each time the woman had severe pains she was given a mouthful to drink. [1,7,11]

The liko (new leaves) would be pounded together with lama leaves, leaf buds and flowers to treat thrush in children. To the mixture was added poi (poi lehua) from kalo lehua, heated with hot stones, then cooled and strained before given to the child. [1,12]

Also, the liko were also used to stimulate the appetite and digestion of a weakened child. [4] Kaʻaiakamanu, in his third volume, specifically mentions the use "Metrosideros collina plym Glaberrima" in the aforementioned treatment, but states that the "mother chews the liko," as well pounding methods, before administering it to the baby. [13]

Other Uses:

The wood was also a superior fire wood. [18]

Modern Use

The very hard, strong wood is much prized today for flooring, furniture, decorative poles, carvings, and ʻukulele keys. [20,21] Sapwood is pale brown, grading gradually into reddish-brown heartwood. [21] Wood takes a fine polish, but is difficult to cure. [22]

Beautiful lei made with the flowers, buds and liko are still a favorite as they were in times of old. [9]

Leaves are still as a pleasant tea in folk remedies. [21]

Because of the abundance of nectar, the plants are classed as a honey plant. Lehua or ʻōhiʻa honey (meli) has a unique flavor to it. [21]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Medicine" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 105, 106.
[2] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 50, 61, 63, 77, 80.

[3] "Lei Aloha--Flower Lei of Hawaiʻi with Instructions" by Marsha Heckman, page 37.

[4] "Native Planters in Old Hawaii--Their Life, Lore, & Environment" by E. S. Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy, page 237, 238, 239.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrtaceae [accessed 10/14/09]

[6] "Container Gardening in Hawaii" by Janice Crowl, page 51.

[7] "Native Plants Used as Medicine in Hawaii" by Beatrice Krauss, page 38.

[8] "Plants and Flowers of Hawaiʻi" by S.H. Sohmer & R. Gustafson, page 110.

[9] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 64-73, 112-119.

[10] "The Strory of Lānaʻi" by George C. Munro, page 67.

[11] "Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value," by D.M. Kaʻaiakamanu & J.K. Akina, page 31.

[12] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume II" by The Reverend Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 79.

[13] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 79.

[14] "Hawaii Forest Disease and Pests" http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/forestry/disease/index.html [Accessed 2/4/11; updated on 4/28/10]

[15] http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/higard/msg1000242218824.html [Accessed 2/9/11]

[16] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 638.

[17] "Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture" by Donald D. Kilolani Mitchell, page 130.

[18] "Auwahi: Ethnobotany of a Hawaiian Dryland Forest" by A.C. Medeiros, C.F. Davenport & C.G. Chimera, page 15.

[19] "Hawaiian Natural History, and Evolution" by Alan C. Ziegler, pages 271-272.

[20] "Contemporary Woodworkers" by Tiffany DeEtte Shafto & Lynda McDaniel, page 194.

[21] "Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced)" by Elbert L. Little Jr. and Roger G. Skolmen, pages 284, 286.

[22] "How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden" by Kenneth M. Nagata, page "ʻŌhiʻa lehua."

[23] Haleakalā National Park http://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm [Accessed on 7/16/13]

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