Hāhā and Kaunaʻoa


“He mea laha ʻole.”
(Not spread everywhere. A thing rare.)
ʻŌlelo Noʻeau 815

Darkest purple, nearly black buds and flowers of hāhā (Cyanea gibsonii). If a careful observer, mature reddish fruits will catch your eye. – Photos: Hank Oppenheimer, Plant Extinction Prevention Program

Collectively, hāhā (Cyanea gibsonii) are members of the Lobelioid family, mind-bogglingly diverse, with at least 52 endemic species in Hawaiʻi nei. We don’t know of specific names for each species, many of which are extremely endangered, threatened, or rare, and often grow naturally in very particular locations. Though protected and managed, C. gibsonii is endemic to, and lives precariously on, Lānaʻi. They number about 20 mature and 50 immature plants and live under siege by deer, rats, and invasive plants like kāhili ginger. Some endemic honeycreepers with curved beaks that fit into curved flowers, feed on nectar while pollinating the blooms.

Our endemic dodder, a parasitic vine, is kaunaʻoa (Cuscuta sandwichiana). With its tiny pua, the official plant symbol of Lānaʻi often grows entwined with pōhuehue, beach morning glory. Both go through cycles of growth, decline, and death, but they endure and persist.

Tiny pua kaunaʻoa and kaunaʻoa with pōhuehue. – Photos: Forest & Kim Starr (left), Mahina C. (right)