Often within one year of a major lava flow you will be able to see Sword Ferns emanating from the cracks in the lava. Soon after other plants will emerge like the medicinal Noni plant which was likely brought over by the original Hawaiians who arrived in Hawaii from the islands of the South Pacific. Premier among these various plants however is a tree which may have had its origins in New Zealand but which now exists as a species that only lives in Hawaii, the Ohea Tree.
The Ohea Tree has masterfully developed a way to make it the primary plant in the eco-structure of the modern Hawaiian forests. It’s mature plants are always in continuous bloom here in Hawaii and thus are constantly emitting tiny seeds to the local environment. These seeds blow everywhere and even onto the newly formed lava flows. The seeds have the capacity of germinating and then sending their roots down vertically for great distances in the lava cracks. They can then benefit from the rainwater that may get trapped and keep the rocks moist at those depths. They also have adapted a unique capability to close off their breathing pores at will so the toxic fumes from the volcanic vents will not be internally processed when they are blown in the direction of the Ohea. In this way they get a foothold in this new terrain.
As more and more plants gather together to populate the lava flows over time the Ohea tree which has now been there the longest will emerge as the primary tree in the forest. The strength and persistence of this tree survivor has established it within Hawaiian lore and it has a huge degree of cultural significance. The Hawaiian god Ku is said to have taken this life form as his physical manifestation and many of the Hawaiian temples, houses, heiau’s and other structures are made from this beautiful wood.
In recent years unfortunately a type of fungus has emerged that has had a devastating effect upon these beautiful trees. They can be killed off in a matter of months and entire forests of Ohea are being eliminated wholesale on the eastern slopes of the volcanic areas of the Big Island. Without the rugged and sturdy Ohe’a the lava flows of the future may need to find another way for these molten rocks to be populated with life. It is a certainty that it will happen one way or another.