The Legendary ʻŌhiʻa Lehua Tree
And How Biodiversity Helps Grow Better Coffee
There was once a man named ʻŌhiʻa. He was so beautiful, he attracted the attention of Pele, the goddess of fire. Unfortunately for Pele, ʻŌhiʻa was in love with Lehua, and she with him. In a fit of jealous rage, Pele turned ʻŌhiʻa into an ugly, gnarled tree. Lehua pleaded with the other gods to bring him back, so they compromised by turning Lehua into a beautiful flower for the ʻŌhiʻa tree. They say that if you pick the flower from the ʻŌhiʻa Lehua tree, the two lovers cry, causing it to rain.
The ʻŌhiʻa Lehua tree is native to Hawaii and is deeply rooted in the culture going back to ancient Hawaii. You can find the flower in songs, chants, stories, clothing, art, and just about everywhere. Hawaiians even celebrate ʻŌhiʻa Lehua Day on April 25th. The flower grows in a variety of shapes and sizes and is most commonly a vibrant red, but you can find ʻŌhiʻa Lehua in salmon, garnet, yellow, and sometimes white. There are five species that are endemic to Hawaii.
Essential to the Islands
ʻŌhiʻa Lehua was used by ancient Hawaiians to craft weapons, tools, enclosures, statues, and even medicine. A paste made from the ground-up leaves was used to ease the pain of childbirth, among other things. The tree’s seeds feed Hawaii’s many native birds. The ʻŌhiʻa Lehua is the first plant to colonize recent lava flows, reaching deep into the crevices with its long root systems and closing its stomata (breathing pores) to block out the toxic volcanic gasses.
Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD)
As important as the ʻŌhiʻa Lehua is to Hawaiian culture and people, many of the trees are dying without any hope of rescue. Over 175,000 acres of ʻŌhiʻa Lehua forests in Hawaii are infected by fungi that cause a disease called ROD, Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. Trees on the island of Maui, Hawaii, Kauai, and Oahu are infected and there is no cure. However, there are steps being taken to minimize the spread of the fungi. If you find yourself near the ʻŌhiʻa Lehua trees, do not injure them. Wounds are perfect entry points for spores. Do not transport ʻŌhiʻa Lehua between islands or move the wood or vegetation from its original location. After being near ʻŌhiʻa Lehua trees, clean all dirt from your clothing, gear, and vehicle. Wash your clothes in hot water and spray your gear with a 70% rubbing alcohol.
ʻŌhiʻa Lehua at Buddha’s Cup Family Farms
At Buddha’s Cup, we grow our coffee under the beautiful ʻŌhiʻa Lehua trees. Why do we grow them together? Because coffee plants have the unique ability to pick up flavor from the surrounding plants. Growing near the ʻŌhiʻa Lehua tree gives our coffee a lightly floral taste that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. You’ll find strategic and beautiful biodiversity all over our farms, resulting in various rich and rare, natural coffee flavors like macadamia nut and cinnamon.