Striking Silhouettes ʻOhe Ma Kai (ʻOhe Kukuluaeʻo)


So reminiscent of ‘ōlapa, ‘ohe ma kai bear grape-like clusters of hua. – Photos: J.B. Friday

A tree we see growing on arid leeward lowlands of our islands, except for Kauaʻi and Kahoʻolawe, ʻohe ma kai (Polyscias sandwicenis) is distinctive. Unlike its endemic relatives ʻōlapa, ʻohe ma uka, and the invasive octopus tree, its leaves fall off during summer, leaving striking silhouettes of thick trunks and tangles of branches. Close relatives are found in Sāmoa, the Marquesas, and the Society Islands.

An alternate name is ʻohe kukuluaeʻo, apparently a reference to its wood being used to fashion stilts for recreation, though little is known of that practice. Too, there are aeʻo, or kukuluaeʻo, endemic endangered waterbirds with long stilt-like legs often observed foraging in shallow brackish ponds.

Swampy Kukuluaeʻo, named after these birds, and mentioned by ʻĪʻī (below) was ma uka of Ala Moana, between Kālia and the pumping station at Keawe Street. Lands ma kai are man-made.