Photo: Hawaiʻi ʻelepaio
Hawaiʻi ʻelepaio readily perched for the dawn chorus. ʻElepaio is an old-world monarch and has retained some genetic resistance to avian malaria. ʻElepaio can live over 20 years. - Photo: Ann Tanimoto Johnson/ LOHE Lab

Even if you aren’t a kalo connoisseur, you can easily recognize ʻelepaio, a beautifully speckled taro variety known for its mottled green and white lau (leaves), slightly brown hā (leaf stalk), cream-colored kalo (corm), and tasty light gray poi.

Like the kalo, ʻelepaio birds (Chasiempis sandwichensis) are the charmingly speckled “monarch flycatchers” represented by three species from Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, and Kauaʻi.

Popularly recognized as the divine forest guardians of canoe builders, ʻelepaio were also the main actors in many other dramas and love stories of old Hawaiʻi. One such story is of the beautiful Hoamakeikekula from Kohala, who was born as a clump of kalo and rescued by her grandmother Makapailū.

She grew into a lovely young woman, and one day while gathering lehua was stolen away by ʻElepaio for the lizard king of Keawewai. Eventually, her true love Puʻuonale, King of Kohala, rescued her from a haunting dreamland despite ʻElepaio’s cursings.