Vaccinium reticulatum

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • ʻŌhelo
  • ʻŌhelo ʻai

Hawaiian Names

  • Ohelo
  • Ohelo ai


  • Vaccinium berberidifolium
  • Vaccinium macraeanum
  • Vaccinium pahalae
  • Vaccinium peleanum
  • Vaccinium penduliflorum var. berberifolium

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

No data available.

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Dwarf, Less than 2
  • Shrub, Small, 2 to 6
  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

No data available.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Red
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

The numerous small bell-shaped flowers are attractive and vary from red, yellow, yellow with red stripes, or greenish yellow. The fruit colors can be red, reddish purple, bluish purple, dull black, yellow, orangish yellow, yellowish green, or pink. The combination of the flowers, fruits, and foliage make for a showy display.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

ʻŌhelo ʻai flower year round but are most prolific from April to September, with peak berry production from June to September.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine

Additional Plant Texture Information

Leaves vary from having serrated edges to smooth and are glaucous (waxy with bluish cast), glabrous (without hairs) to pubescent (with hairs) or a combination of features.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Gray / Silverish
  • Light Green
  • Medium Green
  • Red

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Red Leaf Disease (Witches' broom) deforms leaves. [3]

leaf Growth Requirements

Pruning Information

For ornamental purposes, young ‘ōhelo plants require frequent pinching and trimming to encourage the growth of multiple shoots and to form a compact symmetrical canopy. [9]

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun


  • Wind


  • Cinder


ʻŌhelo ʻai does not do well in lower, warm elevations. [9]

Special Growing Needs

Higher, cooler elevations required for this species. [9]

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

ʻŌhelo ʻai (Vaccinium reticulatum) is found on several of tha Main Islands. This is a common shrub on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island but rare on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu and Molokaʻi from about to 2100 to over 12,000 feet.

One of the first plants to colonize new lava flows, ash dunes and cinder beds in exposed alpine and subalpine sites. Not commonly found in mature or stable plant communities such as grasslands, wet forests and bogs.

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.


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

The specific epithet reticulatum, is from the Latin reticulate, conspicuously net-veined, netted in reference the netlike-veins in the leaves.

Background Information

Nēnē or Hawaiian goose eat ʻōhelo ʻai berries and thus aid in spreading the plants natural range from their droppings.

Two endemic moths in the fruitworm family (Carposinidae) depend on the ʻōhelo their life cycle and the berries are the only known host for their larvae. [8]

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 eaten when found ripe. [5]

The leaf buds, leaves and fruit were combined with other plant material for abdominal 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]

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 missionary entourage, accompanied by Hawaiians. On the journey, when the missionaries 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 Chieftess 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 priestess 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. [1,2,10]

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

Modern Use

From June to September the berries are harvested extensively on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island to make jams and jellies. They can be cooked or eaten raw as a substitute for cranberries. [10] Berry collecting is allowed in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, but the amount is limited to one quart per person per month. Collecting for commercial jam production is illegal. [8]

Fruit and flowers continue to be used lei making as they were with the early Hawaiians. [3]

Reasearch for possible commercial use of ʻōhelo ʻai (V. reticulatum) as a potted plant in Hawaiʻi and Oregon. During harvest time, the fragile ecosystems are impacted. This may be reduced if they could be grown commercially. [3,7]

'Kīlauea' and 'Red Button' are two cultivars of this species are known from Hawaiʻi Island. [9]

Additional References

[1] Pele--Goddess of Fire [Accessed 3/31/10]

[2] "The Hawaiian Archipelago" by Isabella L. Bird, Letter 12. [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] "Hawaii Landscape," April/May 2011 by LICH, pages 14-15, 20.

[8] "Hawai'i's Plants and Animals--Biological Sketches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park" by Charles P. Stone & Linda W. Pratt, page 141.

[9] "‘Kīlauea’ and ‘Red Button,’ Two ‘Ōhelo, Vaccinium reticulatum, Cultivars From Hawai‘i" by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

[10] "Ethnobotany of Hawaii" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 56-57.



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