Sharing this NEW monthly blog called, “Lāʻau Letters: Native Plants of Kaʻū” within the The Kaʻū Calendar News Briefs.

“Welcome to the first edition of Lāʻau Letters: Native Plants of Kaʻū. Enjoy the art of Joan Yoshioka and read Jodie Rosam’s writing on Kaʻū’s native plants’ moʻolelo (stories), uses, preferred habitats, and opportunities to adopt them for stewardship. This column seeks to encourage making new plant friends and to re-unite with others.

ʻAʻaliʻi painting by Joan Joshioka.

This month’s native Kaʻū plant is ‘Aʻaliʻi (Dodonea viscosa): The saying “He ‘aʻaliʻi au, ʻaʻohe makani e kulaʻi” translates into “I am an ‘aʻaliʻi shrub, no wind can push me over.” This speaks to the similarity between the Kaʻū people and the ‘aʻaliʻi, both able to twist and bend but seldom to break, even in the face of difficulties. The name ‘aʻaliʻi was given to this divine lāʻau (plant) because it is a kinolau (form) of Laka (the Goddess of the Forest), and is often used on hula kuahu (altars).

Description: ‘Aʻaliʻi is an indiginous shrub or a small tree that is native to Hawaiʻi, as well as other tropical and subtropical locations across the globe. It is a member of the Soapberry (Sapindaceae) family.

Uses: The strong, dark brown-red wood of ‘aʻaliʻi is known for traditional Hawaiian house construction and the making of weapons, agricultural tools, bait sticks, and lāʻau melomelo (a type of lure used in net fishing). The leaves are medicinal. Fruit capsules become red dye for kapa (fabric) and used in lei.

Habitat: ‘Aʻaliʻi grow in open sites mauka to makai. Much like ʻōhia, ‘aʻaliʻi has an impressive distribution, including lava flows, dry forests, high elevation shrublands, and even mesic (moderately wet) to wet forests. Notice the gorgeous stands of ‘aʻaliʻi along the highway from Volcano to Pāhala – pull over and appreciate its beautiful seed capsules in a range of mahogany red, reddish purple, brown, orange, and yellow, and its glossy, green, slender leaves. Seed capsules nearly year-round though they seem to flourish around the holiday season, and the color contrasts make it a favorite in holiday wreaths and decorations.

Growing and Purchasing: ‘Aʻaliʻi germinate readily from seed. Pre-soaked seeds will sprout in about one month. Alternatively, plants may be available for purchase at Aileen’s Nursery, Big Island Plants, and Future Forests. ‘aʻaliʻi make lovely color contrasting hedges, accent plants, and even potted plants on a lanai with adequate drainage. They are perfect for home gardens with limited water, full sun, and even areas receiving salt-spray.

About the Author, Jodie Rosam: A Ka’ū resident, Jodie Rosam, says she has a deep love for native plants and a passion for exploration, with over 15 years experience working in restoring Hawai’i forests. As a mother and educator, she says the next generation has the power to lead the world to a sustainable future and that she is committed to teaching her children and others from a “place-based” perspective.

About the Artist, Joan Yoshioka: A Volcano resident, Joan Yoshioka, is a conservationist at heart and has dedicated her life to preserving the native plants and animals of Hawai’i through her work with federal, state, and private organizations for more than 30 years. She said the key to the most fundamental and truest part of ourselves is found in nature and she constantly draws on it for inspiration.

To read comments, add your own, and like this story, see See latest print edition at”

Mahalo to Jodie Rosam with Pūlama Mau Environmental Consulting (and part-time HWF team member) and Julia Neal with The Kaʻū Calendar for allowing us to share this story!  Photos of the contributors, Joan (left) and Jodie (right) –>