Monday, June 28, 2010

This Week in Nature: The 1st week in July

What's Happening in Hawaii 
during the 1st week in July:
"O Hinaia'ele'ele ka malama,
 'aluka ka pala a ka 'ōhi'a.
Hinaia'ele'ele is the month when  
the mountain apples ripen everywhere."

Polynesian settlers introduced several kinds of fruit trees to the islands, including bananas, coconuts, and 'ōhi'a 'ai, the mountain apple.
Mountain Apple, Hana Hwy, Maui

All three thrived and grew wild, with 'ōhi'a 'ai establishing itself in the wet mountain valleys up to about 1800 feet. 'Ōhi'a 'ai means "edible 'ōhi'a," and Hawaiians ate the fruit dried as well as fresh. 'Ōhi'a 'ai was also prized for its medicinal properties, with old fruit prescribed for sore throats and the bark and flowers used to treat colds and relieve itching, among other things.

Mountain Apple, Hana Hwy, Maui

Perfectly ripened 'ōhi'a 'ai appears in sayings as a metaphor for human beauty, and rare white fruit was linked with Hinaulu'ōhi'a, goddess of the 'ōhi'a forest. The association of 'ōhi'a 'ai by name and legend with the 'ōhi'a lehua and another native tree, the 'ōhi'a ha, indicates the early Hawaiians' botanical skill. All three are members of the myrtle family and have the showy, tufted flowers with many stamens that are common to it.

Mountain Apple Blossoms, Hana Hwy, Maui

Mountain Apple Blossom Duff, Hana Hwy, Maui

Several other trees in the myrtle family were introduced to the islands later and have also thrived, including eucalyptus, guava, paperbark, and rose apple.

Text and drawn image taken from "Hawaii: A Calendar of Natural Events"
published by the Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989

Monday, June 21, 2010

This Week in Nature; the 4th week in June

What's Happening in Hawaii
during the 4th week in June:
 "Pua ka wiliwili nanahu ka manō...
When the wiliwili tree blooms, the sharks bite..."

Wiliwili thrives in hot, arid places and flowers for several weeks, usually starting about this time. Hawaiian mothers are said to have kept their children out of the water when the yellow, orange or red blossoms of this native tree could be seen.

Photo: DOFAW

Though recent history offers no evidence that manō is particularly prone to attack in June or July, in the old days young seabirds trying their wings during these months may have attracted sharks to feed in near-shore waters.

Wiliwili is adapted for life in hot, dry areas where few other plants can survive. Young trees have prickles to ward off predators, and mature trees drop their leaves before blooming, conserving all their resources for the reproductive effort.

Photos: DOFAW

In wet areas, wiliwili may not drop their leaves or come into flower because dampness eliminates the natural cues that initiate these processes. The flowers and bright red seeds are used in lei and wiliwili wood, noted for its lightness, was prized for ama (canoe outriggers) and fishnet floats.

Photo: DOFAW

To learn more about the wiliwili, visit Forest and Kim Starr's gallery at

Taken from "Hawaii: A Calendar of Natural Events"
published by the Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Midway Atoll as an Introduction to Papahanaumokuakea

Educators and community leaders discuss the importance of Midway Atoll as an educational outlet to describe the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Week in Nature: The 3rd Week in June

What's happening in Hawaii 
during the 3rd week in June:

'Āhinahina; silversword on Mauna Kea
photo: Anya Tagawa

'Āhinahina, the silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. sandwicense), is opening its earliest blossoms at Haleakalā. This unique Hawaiian member of the sunflower family was so abundant 100 years ago that crater slopes appeared to be covered with snow or bathed in moonlight. But in the next fifty years, goats and cattle nearly killed it off. People took a large toll, too, as tourists rolled large 'āhinahina downhill for fun and exporters shipped dried specimens to Asia.

'Āhinahina bush on Mauna Kea
photo: Anya Tagawa

'Āhinahina remains a bush for up to fifteen years, then sprouts a single, towering flower stalk before dying.

'Āhinahina in bloom on Mauna Kea
photo: Anya Tagawa

Hina means "silver" or "grey," so the plant's Hawaiian and English names both derive from the color of its leaves, which are narrow and hairy, adapted for the extreme temperatures encountered in its mountaintop environment.

To see more photos of silversword, visit Forest and Kim Starr's gallery at the Hawaii Ecosystems At Risk website (

Taken from "Hawaii: A Calendar of Natural Events"
published by the Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

This Week in Nature: The 2nd week in June - Breadfruit

What's happening in Hawaii
During the 2nd week in June:

"Hua ka 'ulu ku mai ka he'e

When the breadfruit is ripe, the squid comes in."

 This month begins the main bearing season for 'ulu, or breadfruit. The Hawaiians brought 'ulu to the islands as an important source of starchy food. Here, the tree fruits year round but bears most heavily in the summer, and this seems to have served as a reminder that squid would also be abundant.

He'e can refer to either squid or octopus, and on first reading of this proverb, octopus seems more likely because it is found near the shore, while squid stays in deep water. But the cultural historian who translated this proverb probably chose squid with good reason. 

Though modern science has no evidence that either animal "comes in" to shore during the summer, the orange-backed flying squid is the more plentiful at this time and would have been accessible to Hawaiian fishermen at places where the sea floor slopes off sharply from land.

Text and image  from "Hawaii: A Calendar of Natural Events"
published by the Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989