“Ka Wiliwili o Kaupeʻa”


“Ka wiliwili o Kaupe‘a; The wiliwili grove of Kaupe‘a.” In ‘Ewa, O‘ahu. Said to be where homeless ghosts wander among the trees. – ‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1666

Brilliant red seeds, one or two per pod, decorate bare branches, while pua of varied colors surprise. Variability is a signature of some of our endemic trees. – Photos: Seeds and white pua – F. & K. Starr; green pua – D. Eickhoff; salmon and ivory pua – Jeffrey Saito.

While wandering lava lands, familiar splashes of color beckon. – Photos: Bark detail – J.B. Friday; tree in full bloom – F. & K. Starr.

The arid coralline limestone plain of Honouliuli ma kai, west of Puʻuloa, grew many thousands of years ago when the sea level was much higher.

It was the site of Kaupeʻa and its wiliwili grove until recently when the trees were bulldozed for development. Gone are gnarled orange-trunked kumulāʻau. Now spirits wander, lost, looking for a resting place.

Wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) grows easily and quickly, as long as you file through its bright red seed coat so water can enter and feed it. With dryland friends such as ʻōhai, maʻo, ʻaʻaliʻi, and pili, wiliwili thrive in dry coastal lowlands with just a little rain. Its very lightweight wood is used for papa heʻe nalu and ʻama.