Seeding the future of the`ohi`a tree

The Hawaiian `ohi`a forest is under attack. A new and devastating disease called Rapid `Ohi`a Death (ROD) has already decimated over 15,000 acres of `ohi`a forest on Hawai’i Island and has the potential to destroy many more statewide. A recently launched crowdfunding campaign aims to protect and preserve `ohi`a species through seed-banking at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa’s Lyon Arboretum.


Spearheaded by Seed Conservation Lab Director Marian Chau, the effort will preserve `ohi`a seeds from all islands for future forest restoration, after the threat of Rapid `Ohi`a Death has passed. More than a hundred thousand `ohi`a trees in east Hawa`’i Island were recently killed by ROD and it has affected more than 34,000 acres. When healthy-looking trees begin to exhibit symptoms they typically die within a matter of weeks. This disease has the potential to kill `ohi`a trees statewide.


“It’s a huge threat. What replaces `ohi`a that die, at least in Puna, is invasive weeds-and that’s the end of the native forest,” says J.B. Friday, a forester with the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “`Ohi`a trees cover more than one million acres statewide; they are perhaps the most important tree in Hawa`’i”


Half of the native trees on the Hawa`’i Island are `ohi`a. Native birds live in them and feed on them. Tree snails graze on their leaves. Mosses find space between their surface roots. Their canopy protects the innumerable smaller trees and native shrubs, creating the watershed that feeds our perennial streams and recharges groundwater.


`Ohi`a is a tree with immense cultural significance, symbolizing strength, beauty, and sanctity. It is considered the physical manifestation of Ku, one of the four principal Hawaiian deities. The red, orange and yellow lehua blossoms are a symbol of Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. The `ohi`a is entwined with the art of hula, with its flowers and foliage frequently adorning the dancers and presented as offerings by traditional halau (hula schools).


Get Involved:


The seed banking project will include:

  • Seed collection trips to Hawaii Island to target high risk areas
  • Day trips to target `ohi`a species endemic only to O`ahu
  • Work with University of Hawai`i and USDA scientists and partners throughout the state


Funding for the Seed Conservation Lab though part of the University of Hawai`i at Manoa comes largely through other government agencies and extramural grants. Help save this keystone tree of our native Hawaiian forest. Donate at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s