This article by Jodie Rosam was featured in The Kaʻū Calendar News Briefs on July 5th, 2021.

(Pahala, Hawaiʻi) — “Welcome to the second edition of Lāʻau Letters: Native Plants of Kaʻū. Read about 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 reunite with others.

Lama (Diospyros sandwicensis)

Description: Lama is an endemic (found nowhere else in the world) hardwood tree in the Ebenaceae family, belonging to the same genus as persimmons and ebony. The flowers are extremely inconspicuous, but produce large, bright yellow or red fruits (up to one inch long) which are sweet and delicious. The colors of liko (new growth) range from vibrant shades of red, magenta, pink, or even orange.

Uses: The wood was used for the framework of houses, temple construction, stone chisel handles, and is occasionally used in woodworking today. Pupupu hale (huts) were made of lama wood in a single day during the daylight (lama) hours, and the sick were placed inside them for curing. The wood is medicinal, and was woven through sticks (ʻaukā) to strengthen ʻie kala fish traps. A block of lama wrapped in scented yellow kapa is often placed on a kuahu (hula altar) to honor Laka (the Goddess of Hula). Lama represents enlightenment.

Habitat: Lama was the dominant dry forest canopy tree along with ʻōhiʻa, and can still be found today in most dry forest habitats, from 0-4,000 feet. There are recollections of a windblown lama forest near the coastline in Kipuka Hanalua. Here in Kaʻū, the matte green leaves stand out against the glossy alaheʻe forests across ahupuaʻa from Manukā to Kahilipali.

Growing and Purchasing: Lama seeds do not store and deteriorate rapidly, so sew the seeds immediately upon collection (the easiest way to remove seeds from the fruit is to enjoy the sweet fruit and spit out the seeds). Lama is slow to germinate (between 1-4 months) and extremely slow-growing, so patience is vital. Lama seedlings grow an impressively long taproot which likely enables them to survive times of drought, but restricts their potential as a container plant, so plant them in the ground once the seedling reaches 6-12”. Plant in full sun, and once established, water only monthly during dry periods. Established seedlings may be available to purchase at Aileen’s Nursery or Future Forests.

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, Jodie (left) and Joan (right) –>