Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park: More Than a Dozen Critical Trees Deliberately Destroyed Along Trails

by Jonathan Howard

Someone has been doing some damage along trails in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The ‘ohi’a lehua was the main victim. A tree that is not just native to the six islands, but is important culturally to the Hawaiian people, various ‘ohi’a trees were deliberately damaged recently.

It is hard to say why someone would do this. Along a trail in the park, broken trees were documented. There were more than a dozen young trees that were destroyed. The ‘ohi’a is the most common native tree in Hawaii and has a lot of history surrounding it. Songs, chants, stories, and more have been passed down from generation to generation.

These trees can grow very large. However, the ones that were damaged were young. The largest was just 3 inches in diameter and roughly 15 feet high. Not only does this senseless destruction kill those trees, but it puts others at risk. Right now, there is are two types of fungal diseases that are referred to as Rapid ‘Ohi’a Death or ROD. This disease, much like the fungus that has devasted ash trees in North America is doing a lot of harm.

One of the main ways that the fungus spreads is when trees are injured. An injury, or a large break like the trees in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, speeds up the spread of the disease. These trees are amazing. After lava flows through an area, making it unlivable for a time, these trees are the first thing that grows. So, they are literally the heart of Hawaiian forests and new growth.

Officials are looking for those that did the damage. And, they are hoping to find all of the damaged trees to cover them with a pruning seal. Hopefully, it stops the spread of ROD.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Tries to Save Beloved Trees

So, why is the ‘ohi’a tree so important? It isn’t just the fact that it grows in obsidian lava fields. No, it has more historical and cultural impact than that. These trees even have an origin myth on the islands. They are strange plants that contain an array of buds and flowers. Largely, it looks like a succulent or cactus. However, the red, yellow, salmon, and sometimes even white blooms make the trees stand out.

It was said that Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire took a liking to a man, ʻŌhiʻa. However, he had eyes on Lehua, a mortal woman. In a fit of rage, Pele turned her would-be lover into an ugly tree. Something that grew bumpy and unwanted flowers and leaves. After begging the other gods to help, Lehua was turned into a beautiful flower that would go on the ‘ohi’a tree. So, the two mortals would forever be together.

So, legend says that if you pick a flower from the tree, the two lovers cry out and cause it to rain with their tears. A beautiful tree with a beautiful story. Hopefully, this issue is resolved quickly and park officials can battle ROD.