The Lehua Blossom on the Ohia Tree

The Lehua blossom on an Ohia tree.

When you are in Hawaii, you may notice a unique tree with twisted looking branches and a bright red or yellow blooms. That’s the Ohia tree. It’s native to Hawaii and can be found on all the islands.

I like to think of the Ohia tree as being the little-train-that-could of the tree family. The reason being is it is one of the first trees to grow in lava. What determination!

When you visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, you’ll see vast fields of lava from past lava flows. Some of the first plants that you’ll likely see are small Ohia trees providing the first dots of vegetation in a field of lava.

A small Ohia tree growing in an old lava flow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

There’s an interesting Hawaiian legend about the Ohia tree and its flower, the Lehua blossom. As you might expect, the legend is tied to the volcano goddess, Pele. The legend says that one day Pele met a handsome warrior named Ohia and she asked him to marry her. The problem was Ohia had already pledged his love to Lehua.  Pele was furious when Ohia turned down her marriage proposal, so she turned Ohia into a twisted tree.  Lehua was heartbroken, of course. The gods took pity on Lehua and decided it was an injustice to have Ohia and Lehua separated.  So, they turned Lehua into a flower on the Ohia tree so that the two lovers would be forever joined together.  That’s a bit of a fiery love story, isn’t it?

For more information about the Ohia tree, check out this informational poster.

  1. What should a healthy ohea look like. I live in Hawaiian acres and am concerned about the trees dying. Could it be the moister or vog or both. What do you think. Also it appears the tree is turning white. Is this good or bad. Mahalo

    1. I live in Hawaiian Acres too and the Ohia trees look okay up on Road 1.
      It is not unusual for the bark to turn white. The ohia is one of the strongest trees and the first to come up after the lava flow. I can ask my son-in-law just to be sure. He lives here too on the lower end of the Acres.
      I heard a different legend about the Ohia from my Pure Hawaiian Aunt. :
      Ohia was an ugly warrior, but very strong. He fell in love with the beautiful Maiden “Lehua”. Lehua’s parents did not want her to marry the ugly warrior, so the couple went to Pele for protection. So everytime we pick the Lehua blossoms it rains because she cries for her lover.

      1. Aloha Steph – Thanks for sharing the legend you were taught.

      2. That is the legend I learned. When very young all I was told it was that it would rain if you picked a Lehua blossom. One grew outside our house 🙂

  2. The legend that I was told by my Native Hawaiian Aunt goes like this:
    Ohia was a very strong but ugly warrior. He fell in love with the beautiful maiden “Lehua.”. Lehua’s parents opposed the marriage because Ohia was so ugly. The couple went to the goddest “Pele” for protection. So everytime we pick the Lehua Blossom it rains because she cries for her lover. Ohia is still the strong warrior and is the first to emerge after a lava flow.

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