Vaccinium calycinum

leaf Main Plant Information

Genus

Vaccinium

Species

calycinum

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • ʻŌhelo
  • ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau

Hawaiian Names

  • Ohelo
  • Ohelo kau laau

Common Names

  • Tree ʻōhelo

Synonyms

  • Metagonia calycina
  • Vaccinium dentatum var. minutifolium
  • Vaccinium fauriei
  • Vaccinium hamatidens
  • Vaccinium meyenianum
  • Vaccinium penduliflorum var. calycinum
  • Vaccinium penduliflorum var. gemmaceum
  • Vaccinium reticulatum f. grandifolia
  • Vaccinium reticulatum f. montana
  • Vaccinium reticulatum var. calycinum

Did You Know…?

ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau is related to the blueberry, huckleberry, lingonberry and cranberry. While not as sweet (often bland) as the other two native ʻōhelo, they are a welcome snack while hiking nonetheless. This is the largest of the native species aptly known as the Tree ohelo.

The three species of ʻōhelo endemic to the Hawaiian Islands are some of the few in this genus of some 450 species found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, albeit at the higher and cooler areas.

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status

Endemic

Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Partially Woody / Shrub-like
  • Sprawling Shrub
  • Shrub

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • 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

Mature Size, Width

In its natural habitat ʻōhelo kau lāʻau can be at least six feet wide.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent

Additional Landscape Use Information

This common upland shrub is so far very rarely used in the landscape. But it does rather well in lower elevations with sufficient water. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

These are slowing growing shrubs and long-lived to 20 or more years. They can grow to 15 feet tall in protected spaces. [Kim Dillman, Big Island Plants]

Exposed ʻōhelo kau lāʻau have a moderate tolerance to vog. [Kim Dillman, Big Island Plants]

Plant Produces Flowers

Yes

leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Colors

  • Greenish-White
  • Pink

Additional Flower Color Information

The downward hanging flowers are attrative at closer inspection, but not as striking as the other native species.

Blooming Period

  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • October
  • November
  • December

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau in its natural habitat blooms from late October until mid-July. Fruiting is from late December until August with some leafless plants going from October through February.

In cultivated plants the blooming period is unknown.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium

Leaf Colors

  • Light Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Leaves may drop seasonally in the winter, but otherwise green and thin to the touch. [Kim Dillman, Big Island Plants]

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

In the few cultivated plants thus grown, red spider mites seem to be the greatest problem so far. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Growth Requirements

Fertilizer

ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau benefit greatly from a monthly foliar feeding of kelp and/or fish emulsion at half strength. As acid loving plants, they like Miracid (by Miracle Gro) diluted at half strength every other month. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Water Requirements

  • Moist
  • Wet

Additional Water Information

ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau enjoys constant moisture. [Kim Dillman, Big Island Plants]

Soil must be well drained

Yes

Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Soils

  • Cinder
  • Organic

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)

Habitat

  • Epiphyte
  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau ranges from 1640 to over 5900 feet in wet forests and bogs in its natural habitat. Terrestrial but sometimes found as an epiphyte (in trees).

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

All three endemic species of ʻōhelo (Vaccinium calycinum, V. dentatum, V. reticulatum) belong to the Heath family (Ericaceae).

ʻŌhelo share the same genus (Vaccinium) with delicious edibles as blueberries, huckleberries, bilberries, cranberries, and ligonberries. Other well known members include heath (Erica), heather (Calluna), mayflower (Epigaea repens), madrone (Arbutus), mazanita (Arctostaphylos), Azalea, Rhododendron, and the wonderfully fragrant wintergreen (Gaultheria procombens).

The only other native relative is pūkiawe (Leptecophylla tameiameiae) which is also found in the Marquesas Islands.

Etymology

The generic name Vaccinium is from the Latin vaccinus, of cows, in reference to the German folk-name kuhteke. Kuh is cow in German.

Th specific epithet calycinum comes from the Latin for 'with a conpicuous calyx,' in reference to the more prominent calyxes (leafy portion under the flower) than the other species.

Background Information

ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau is the largest and tallest of the three native ʻōhelo (Vaccinium spp.) growing to over fifteen feet tall and at least six feet wide. It is also the most distinctive and easily recogized Vaccinium species in Hawaiʻi.

They may be an important seasonal component in the diet of ʻōmaʻo or Hawaiian thrush (Myadestes obscurus). [7]

NOTE:  All species of ʻōhelo have edible berries. An unrelated native plant ʻākia (Wikstroemia spp.) often grows in the same habit as ʻōhelo and both have red berries. But to the untrained eye the two can be mistaken for the same plant. While ʻōhelo berries are edible, ʻākia berries are not and some species are even reported to be poisonous! For good reason, then, ʻākia are known by the common name "false ohelo." The differences between the plants are easy once you take time to learn them. Please take the time to learn them. You can do so by visiting a number of plant profiles for Wikstroemia on this site.

Early Hawaiian Use

Though all three native species are known by the Hawaiian name ʻōhelo, distinctive names were given for two of them: ʻōhelo ʻai (V. reticulatum) literally "edible ʻōhelo" known for its delicious berries; and ʻōhelo kau lāʻau (V. calycinum), meaning "to put [placed] on trees," perhaps referring to the plants nature of occasionally growing in trees (ephiphytic).

The early Hawaiians enjoyed eating the berries much as we do today. The fruit was not readily available as everyday food since they grew high in the mountains. But like hikers today, they were considered wild food and eaten when found ripe. [5,6]

Medicinally, the leaf buds, leaves and fruit were combined with other plant material for abdonimal pains. The ingredients were pounded together into a mash and strained through the leaves of ʻahuʻawa (Cyperus javanicus), and drunk in the morning and evening. [3,7]

New leaves (liko), fruit (berries) and flowers were in used lei making. [3,4,6]

ʻŌhelo and Pele:

ʻŌhelo was considered a sacred plant by the early Hawaiians. No one was to eat any berries without first offering them to Pele, the goddess of fire, lightening, dance, volcanoes, and violence. With branches of ʻōhelo berries in hand, they would say:

"E Pele, eia ka ʻōhelo 'au; e taumaha aku wau ʻia ʻoe, e ʻai hoʻi au tetahi." (O Pele, here are your ʻōhelo [branches]; I offer some to you, some I also eat.) Then, they would toss a portion of the branch with berries attached into the crater as an offering to Pele. After which they were allowed to eat some.

In 1823, among the first white people to visit Kīlauea was Reverend William Ellis and his missonary entourage, accompanied by Hawaiians. On the journey, when the missonaries became hungry they ate some ʻōhelo berries and were quickly warned to give some to Pele first before partaking of them. Ellis wrote, "We told them ...that we acknowledged Jehovah as the only divine proprietor of the fruits of this earth, and felt thankful to Him for them, especially in our present circumstances. We traveled on, regretting that the natives should indulge in notions so superstitious." [1]

Following the example of Ellis, in December 1824, the High Chiefess Kapiʻolani (c.1741-1841) set out on a mission from Kona to visit the still active Kīlauea where she would dare Pele to do her worst, even though her husband and others tried to dissaude her. She made the long journey of about one hundred miles mostly by foot with a large company. There she was met by a preistess of Pele threatening her with Pele's displeasure if she continued with her hostile errand, and prophesied that she and her followers would perish miserably. With defiance, she descended into the crater, gathered ʻōhelo berries and ate them without first offering them to Pele, and threw rocks into the crater to insult the goddess. She and her eighty followers went to the edge of Halemaʻumaʻu caldera and addressed her followers: "Jehovah is my God. He kindled these fires. I fear not Pele. If I persih by the anger of Pele, then you may fear the power of Pele; but if I trust in Jehovah, and he should save me from the wrath of Pele, when I break her tabus [taboos], then you must fear and serve the Lord Jehovah. All the gods of Hawaii are vain!" Then they sang hymns. [1,2]

There was no wrath from Pele. Kapiʻolani and her followers did not succumb to any horrible death as prophesized they surely would.

Modern Use

ʻŌhelo, in general, are perhaps the most popular native Hawaiian fruit. The berries are used today in making jams, jellies, pie filling or eaten fresh.

ʻŌhelo kau lāʻau is probably the least used of the three native species, perhaps because of inaccessibility to good locations for harvesting. Modern roads to the two other higher elevation species has made them easily available and more useable. Too, the fruit of ʻōhelo kau lāʻau is tart, but sometimes added to other ʻōhelo species in jams and jellies. [7] 

Additional References

[1] Pele--Goddess of Fire http://www.coffeetimes.com/pele.htm [Accessed 3/31/10]

[2] "The Hawaiian Archipelago" by Isabella L. Bird, Letter 12. http://donch.com/LULH/bird12.htm [Accessed 4/2/10]

[3] "The Maui Plant Chronicles: ʻOhelo (Vaccinium reticulatum)" by Maui Mike. [Accessed 4/2/10]

[4] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 110-111.

[5] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi--Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 44.

[6] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 16, 77.

[7] "Hawai'i's Plants and Animals--Biological Sketches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park" by Charles P. Stone & Linda W. Pratt, page 195.

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