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Pandanus tectorius

leaf Main Plant Information

Genus

Pandanus

Species

tectorius

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Hala
  • Pū hala

Hawaiian Names

  • Hala
  • Pu hala

Common Names

  • Hawaiian screwpine
  • Pandan
  • Pandanus
  • Screw pine
  • Screwpine

Synonyms

  • Pandanus fatuhivaensis
  • Pandanus filiciatilis
  • Pandanus hivaoaensis
  • Pandanus jonesii
  • Pandanus marquesasensis
  • Pandanus mei
  • Pandanus mendanensis
  • Pandanus odoratissimus
  • Pandanus taepa

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status

Indigenous

Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30

Mature Size, Width

Hala is known to have a 20 to 40-foot spread and is wide branched. [14]

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

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

Additional Landscape Use Information

Hala is a choice tree for the essential native Hawaiian landscape. Female trees, with the characteristic pinneapple-shaped fruit, appear to be more in demand than the males. But the uncommon male hala produce highly fragrant and attractive floral displays and should be grown more as well.

An excellent plant for poor, salty or sandy soils in hot and windy areas. Both a xeric and salt-tolerant tree, hala is a great to stabilize sandy soil along coatsal and beach front properties where salt spray may kill most other plants.

Hala may take ten years or longer to mature and bear fruit. [14]

Companion Plants:

ʻŪlei, ʻākia, ʻilima, maʻo, loulu, naupaka kahakai, ʻōhiʻa and native ferns.

Source of Fragrance

  • Flowers
  • Fruits

Additional Fragrance Information

The ripe fruits of the female hala are fragrant.

Male flowers called hīnano are surrounded by very fragrant bracts. Heidi Bornhorst notes: "Old stories tell of lost fishermen in canoes adrift at sea finding their way home via the frangrances of hala." [9]

Plant Produces Flowers

Yes

leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type

Showy

Flower Colors

  • Cream
  • White

Blooming Period

  • Sporadic

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Hala flowers one to three times per year. The male flowers are very distinctive and vey fragrant.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Hala leaves (lau hala) are from 2 to 6 feet long and are spiraled at the end of the branch. The leaves have sharply-toothed margins. Some forms and cultivars have little or no spines along the leaf margins and may not be of Hawaiian origin.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

In addition to the typical green leaves, there also variegated forms.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Hala is prone to ants, scale, mealy bugs and aphids.

leaf Growth Requirements

Fertilizer

For young hala, an application of a balanced slow release fertilizer with minor elements every six months. Mature plants do not appear to need the additional fertilizer to thrive. Foliar feed young plants monthly with kelp or fish emulsion, or a water-soluble fertilizer with a dilution of one-half of the recommended strength. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Yellow or brown leaves may be removed, but otherwise hala self prunes. But old and decaying leaves should be cleaned occasionally out the canopy since rats are known to nest in the debris. [14]

Water Requirements

  • Dry
  • Moist

Additional Water Information

Water young hala weekly when ground is dry until new growth is observed, then water only in times of prolonged drought. Most mature hala will rarely require water except in severe times of drought.

Hala can handle pure salt water and survive, but prefer fresh water. [9]

Soil must be well drained

Yes

Light Conditions

  • Full sun

Additional Lighting Information

Hala will cease to flower or produce fruit in heavy shade, but will grow well with intermediate levels of shade.

Spacing Information

Plants should be spaced 20 to 30 feet apart. For shrubs or denser plantings, hala can be planted from 5 to 15 feet apart, if managed, for foliage.

Tolerances

  • Drought
  • Brackish Water
  • Wind
  • Salt Spray
  • Heat

Soils

  • Sand
  • Cinder
  • Coral

Limitations

Hala leaf edges are serrated in most varieties and aerial roots in public areas may be hazardous. Features to keep in mind when planting along high foot traffic locations.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)

Habitat

  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Hala grows in mesic coastal regions, at sea level, in low elevation mesic slopes, but rarely higher than 2,000 feet.

It was much more common in the past with notable groves on Oʻahu (below Nuʻuanu Pali) and in the Honolulu residential area today known as Kāhala. Puna (Hawaiʻi) and Hāna (Maui) also once had large groves. [4]

Today wild populations are found on the windward coasts and lower valleys of the main islands, in groves ranging from a few trees to thousands. [1] A poplation of hala above Kahana Bay, windward Oʻahu, on the way to Puʻu Piei, are much shorter in height than many coastal plants. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Hala or Pandanus are members of the Screw pine family (Pandanaceae).

There are two indigenous family representatives. The other, ʻieʻie (Freycinetia arborea), is commonly seen in mesic or wet forests ascending trees or sprawling over rocks or on the ground.

Etymology

The generic name is derived from the Amboinese term pandan, Latinized to produce Pandanus.

The Latin specific epithet tectorius carries the meanings "of plasterer; of rooftops, growing on rooftops, of the tiles." [8]

Hawaiian Name:

The name Hala has various meanings. (See below "Early Hawaiian Use" under "Lei:")

Background Information

Hala is one of the classic picturesque coastal trees of the South Pacific.

"Pandan or screw pine" is one of the few plants that were listed as an emergency food during World War II in a  manual called “Emergency Food Plants and Poisonous Plants of the Islands of the Pacific” by the War Department. The manual states that “the purpose of this manual is to aid the individual who becomes separated from his unit…so that this individual can live off the land.” It then briefly identifies the plant and how to prepare it. [12]

Early Hawaiian Use

In old Hawaiʻi, hala grew sporadically almost everywhere seeds were carried by streams and the ocean. [15] Hala was very important to the early Hawaiians and they had a number of uses for it. As for the fruits, they were used for various purposes, but prized the red ones were especially prized by early Hawaiians. [15]

Agriculture:

The early Hawaiians used hala extensively and was thus planted from seed near houses. [4,12] Some trees were also planted in and at edges of villages, as well maintaining large groves. [15]

Canoe:

The Hawaiians plaited the leaves for canoe sails. Canoes (waʻa) were generally covered with a black paint made from ʻakoko (Euphorbia spp.), inner bark of kukui root, juice of maiʻa (banana) buds, and charcoal of hala leaves, and finished with rubbing with oil of kukui kernals. The black contrast with the unpainted yellow moʻo (gunwales) of ʻahakea (Bobea spp.) wood gave the waʻa a pleasing contrast. [15]

Clothing:

Hīnano (male flower bracts) were used to plait the finest garments called ʻahu hīnano. The bracts were dried and torn into very narrow strips before plaiting. These garments had a soft, fine texture, and were characterized by marvelous flexibility. [15]

Cordage/Fiber:

The soft aerial roots (ulehala) of female hala were used as cordage. [1] Some lau hala cordage was formed into rings called pōʻaha to support bowls with rounded bottoms. [12]

When ʻahuʻawa (Cyperus javanicus) was not scarce or not available, hala fiber were gathered together in a sizable bundle and used for straining awa (kava). [15]

Food:

The sweet fresh fruit tips were only eaten as famine food by the early Hawaiians because of the presence of irritating raphides (crystals of calcium oxalate), similar the effects by eating raw kalo (taro). [2,15] In times of famine, children would break open the very hard stony coverings of mature keys to eat the tasty nut-like centers. [12,15]

Games & Sports:

Small stuffed cubicals were made for ball games. [11] Kites were also made with crude plaiting. [15]

House Construction:

The wood of male trees was used for house (hale) construction for ceilings and, where it was abundant, lau hala was used for roof thatching. Female hala (hala hua) wood was too soft for construction use. [2,3,9,11,12,15]

Household Furnishings:

The leaves (lau) were used in plaiting baskets, mats and mattresses, cubical pillows stuffed with lau hala pulu, hats, sandals (kāmaʻa) for walking on rough lava, and fans to cool themselves. [2,3,9,11,12,15]

The bracts of hīnano (male flowers) were used in plaiting very fine textured and fragrant mats called moena hīnano. Hala leaves (lau hala) were carefully prepared by stripping off thorny edges, washed, bleached in sea water, soaked for several days, passed through smoke to soften, sun dried, lightly pounded with a bone tool, and rolled up. Preparation and plaiting was done by women. [11,12]

Lei:

Fiber from root tips of female hala were used to string lei. [15]

Very different from the female fruits (keys), the fragrant bracts of the male hala flower (hīnano) were fashioned into strikingly beautiful lei and were used with or without the flowers themselves. [6]

The ripe hala keys (hala ʻiʻo) used for lei were cut by a shark tooth horizontially in three different ways according to desired use. [15] Hard hala keys (hala iwi nui) were not used for lei. [16]

Several fruit (keys) forms were used for various reasons. At least six color forms are known and were frequently used by the lei maker:

  • Hala. The common yellow to red keys.
  • Hala ʻīkoi. Keys are lemmon colored at base; bright orange upper half.
  • Hala lihilihi ʻula. Keys are bright yellow at base, changing to brigt red-orange at top.
  • Hala melemele, or Hala maoli. Bright yellow keys.
  • Hala pia. Small canary yellow keys; prized.
  • Hala ʻula. Orange red keys; very much prized. [6,16]

Because the name hala means to "pass away" or "die," lei made from hala were only for personal use by early Hawaiians and never presented to others, except with malice. The name hala is also translated as sin, vice, offense, fault, error, or failure, and not worn at certain times being considered as "bad luck." [6]

Many who work with hala today, do not accept this.

Medicinal:

Young aerial or prop root tips, before reaching the ground called "scales," were used medicinally, both internally and externally. [15] The soft part of the male flowers (hīnano) were chewed by a mother and given to infants and young children as a laxative. Adults also used it for a laxative. [2,5,7]

The keys of the form hala pia were used medicinally. [6]

The aerial root tips were pounded, juice strained and heated. [5,7] They were mixed with eucalyptus in a pūloʻuloʻu (steam bath) to treat colds. [10] A mixture of aerial roots with kō (sugar cane) and other plants was used as a tonic for mothers weakened by child birth. The mixture was also given for chest pains. [5,7]

When mixed with other plants, the roots were used in urinary tract infections, low energy and red eyes. [10] The tips are said to be rich in vitamin B. [12]

Paint Brushes:

The dried keys (phalanges, drupes, fruits) were also used as brushes to apply dyes for painting, stenciling designs, and perfuming kapa. [2,15]

The mature keys, often after falling from the female tree, were cleaned of nay remaining pulp by combing through the fibers with thin, pointed instruments such as bamboo (ʻohe), and the ends of the fibers cut off evenly. The hard upper end of the key served as a handle for the brush. [15]

Wood:

The wood of male trees (hala hīnano) is said to be beautiful, but not as common as females which have soft wood. The hard wood was used for canoe rollers, and occasionally for bowls. [12]  The softer wood centers were hollowed out and used for pipes to channel water from one kalo (taro) loʻi to another. [2]

Hīnao & Love

Supposedly, hīnano acted as an aphrodisiac. The entire hīnano stem of flowers (inflorescence) was picked by a girl and chased the boy of her choice with it. Upon catching him, she would beat him on the head with it. The pollen freed by this action,covered his head and would make him fall in love with her. In another use, the pollen was at times seriously collected and place in a drink, upon which the "victim" would drink the love concotion without being aware of its purpose! [15]

Modern Use

Today, lei are made from the unripe fruit (keys) and have apparently lost its initial negative connotation. [3] The keys are said to smell like pumpkin. [11]

Floor and table mats, hats, purses, baskets and other items continued to be made today using lau hala. [11]

Heidi Bornhorst, a local horticulturalist, notes that "a papale (hat) made of  lau hala is an heirloom that can last 100 years or more if properly cared for. A yearly dip in the ocean is recommended to keep it supple." [9]

Bornhorst comments that "weavers say the best lau hala (hala leaves) are from young hala growing in salty, windy areas. Wet Wailau Valley on Molokai, where fierce, salty winds blow, is prime lau hala habitat." [9]

Hala Use Outside of Hawaiʻi:

In other parts of the Pacific, sails, hats, kites, thatching, satchels, and garments were and often still made from lau hala. [11]

Hala is not a generally used food in the Hawaiian, now or in earlier times, probably due to the varieties here. However, Pandanus fruit (keys) is eaten in other Pacific areas where fruit is more edible because of varietal differences. [15]

Additional References

[1] "Hala and Wauke in Hawaiʻi" by Brien A. Meilleur, pages 4, 10-12, 13, 14, 15, 28.
[2] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 52, 58, 69, 71.

[3] "Hawaiian Seed Lei Making--Step-by-Step Guide" by Laurie Shimizu Ide, pages 99-100.

[4] "Native Planters in Old Hawaii--Their Life, Lore, & Environment" by E. S. Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy, pages 199-200.

[5] "Native Plants Used as Medicine in Hawaii" by Beatrice Krauss, page 6.

[6] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, pages 16-19, 23-25.

[7] "Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value," by D.M. Kaaiakamanu & J.K. Akina, page 41.

[8] "The Names of Plants" by David Gledhill, page 372.

[9] "Versatile and Hardy Hala, a Hallmark of Isle Culture" (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Jan. 17, 2011) by Heidi Bornhorst, page D3.

[10] "Medicine at Your Feet: Healing Plants of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Volume 1," by David Bruce Leonard, page 134.

[11] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, pages 51, 52-53.

[12] “Emergency Food Plants and Poisonous Plants of the Islands of the Pacific” by the War Department (April 15, 1943), pages 103-104.

[13] "Resource Units in Hawaiian Culture" by Donald D. Kilolani Mitchell, pages 116-117, 128, 131, 134, 167.

[14] "How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden" by Kenneth M. Nagata, page "Hala."

[15] "Ethnobotany of Hawaii" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 129, 179-181.

[16] Hawaiian Dictionaries online [accessed on 9/27/13]

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