Attractive hala pepe deserves preservation
By Heidi Bornhorst
Hala pepe is a beautiful and meaningful native Hawaiian plant that is not common today. When you first see one, you might think it looks like a pointy-leaf ti leaf, or a more subtly colored money tree. Look more closely and your eyes and senses will tell you that this is something different unique and special. You also might think that it would be a nice addition to your garden with its beautiful golden-yellow fragrant blossoms.
You are right: They would be gorgeous in gardens, and lovely as choice potted specimen plants, but they are not that easy to get started. They also grow slowly, compared to their nonnative relatives such as ti and money trees. It is particularly hard to find them on O'ahu and when you do, their beauty makes you feel happy and hopeful.
They are fairly common in some forests. I remember seeing them while tramping over the 'a'a in a Konawaena forest with landscape architect Brenda Lam. A new road had been cut through these dry forest lands, mostly native. This road made the area open up. This was good for us looking at and enjoying the plants, but it also brings in the weeds if you're not careful.
Fire also is a killer of native Hawaiian plants and their seeds.ÊRoads can mean fires, as that careless cigarette butt or ill-timed backfire can ignite the alien dry weeds and grasses like the ubiquitous fountain grass that inevitably line roads.
Hala pepe is one of many native plants that deserves our time and energy: Learn about it, grow and nurture it, in your gardens and in the wild wonderful places where it still can be found. It can be grown from seeds.
Hala pepe, along with maile, palapalai, 'ohi'a lehua and i'ei'e, is one of the plants of Laka, goddess of the hula. It is a precious and revered plant, but sometimes that recognition does the plants no good, as they are gathered from the wild without thought to how they will be perpetuated. We must be conscious of how we use native Hawaiian plants.Ê
Sometimes people will cut hala pepe and other plants for symbolic decoration. Having the living growing plant in a pot would perpetuate the rare Hawaiian plants and give a better message. As a noted kumu hula shared recently: "Without plants in the forest, we would have no Hawaiian culture."
People who love hula could be the first to cherish the plants in their growing, living state. Let's not let them become a mele of memory only.
Heidi Bornhorst is the director of Honolulu's five botanical gardens.