Ulu Lehulehu

Million ʻŌhiʻa Initiative

Ulu Lehulehu
Mahalo for visiting Ulu Lehulehu. We are grateful for your interest in ʻōhiʻa, and your commitment to perpetuating ʻōhiʻa across landscapes of Hawaii.

Ulu Lehulehu—Million ʻŌhiʻa Initiative promotes the protection, planting and restoration of ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), a Hawaiʻi endemic tree monarch and biocultural anchor of the forests of Hawaiʻi.

UluTo grow, increase, or spread; to protect.

LehulehuMultitude, numerous, innumerable, myriad.

Definitions from Nā Puke Wehewehe

keiki hands
Hilo Union students getting their hands dirty as they learn to propagate seedlings with Ulu Lehulehu interns.
ʻōhiʻa seedlings in greenhouse
Bringing the forest to our backyards—Ulu Lehulehu raising ʻōhiʻa plants in the greenhouse to give away to schools and at community events.
ulu lehulehu program
Education and outreach at Keaʻau Elementary—planting and transplanting ʻōhiʻa.


The ʻōhiʻa lehua is by far the most bioculturally important tree species in Hawaiʻi. The ʻōhiʻa is truly the ecological keystone of Hawaiʻi’s native forests and watersheds, covering more than one million acres statewide, and providing habitat for countless other native species of plants, birds and insects. The ʻōhiʻa is also the cultural keystone for native Hawaiian people, supporting beliefs and traditional lifeways and practices. The relationship between Pele, the deity of fire and lava who is both a destroyer and creator of land, with her youngest and most cherished sister, Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, a healer and nurturer of new growth, is one of cycles and a system in balance.The ʻōhiʻa emerging from a fresh lava flow is perhaps the most iconic representation of the ʻōhiʻa relationships with Hawaiʻi and her people.

ʻŌhiʻa lehua is critical to maintaining the diversity, structure, and function of Hawaiʻi’s native forests. This ecological foundation provides food and habitat to numerous native plant, animal, and invertebrate species, and also affects our watersheds by capturing water, reducing erosion and sediment runoff into our streams and reefs, and providing countless goods and services to the people of Hawaiʻi.

Pōki'i ka ua, ua i ka lehua...the rain, like a younger brother, remains with the lehua

– Mary Kawena Pukui, ʻŌlelo Noʻeau

ʻōhiʻa lehua flower
Kaūmana Trail, October 2016
kaumana trail
ʻŌhiʻa forest on Mauna Loa

Native Hawaiians hold the ʻōhiʻa as a cherished family member, and the sacred relationship between people and species is seen throughout native Hawaiian culture. ʻŌhiʻa forests have been treasured by native Hawaiians as the foundation for hula where liko (tender leaves) and lehua blossoms are used to adorn dancers with the bodily manifestation of Hawaiian gods of the forest. The ʻōhiʻa also supports the culture with countless uses, including wood for construction and various parts of the plant for medicine and craft. The many roles played by ʻōhiʻa in society has been captured in moʻolelo (stories), inoa wahipana (place names), oli (chants), mele (songs), hula (dance), and ʻōlelo noʻeau (traditional sayings), all celebrating the enormous value of this species to Hawaiʻi and her people.

The ʻōhiʻa has been steadily disappearing from our landscapes becauses of changes in land-use such as development or agricultural driven deforestation, spread of aggressive invasive species, and and diseases such as ʻōhiʻa rust (Puccinia). Recently, Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD), a highly severe vascular wilt fungus (Ceratocystis), has become a devastating disease that kills ʻōhiʻa. The disease is spreading rapidly across Hawaiʻi Island, and a diverse partnership has mobilized to meet this new threat ( www.rapidohiadeath.org) through outreach to reduce the spread of the disease, research on disease resistance, and rapid response to contain new outbreaks. In the face of these threats, The Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests is supporting biocultural strategies for protecting, and where needed, restoring our ʻōhiʻa forests, with the goal of perpetuating our ʻōhiʻa forests.

History of Ulu Lehulehu – Million ʻŌhiʻa Initiative

planting ʻōhiʻa with Sen. Akaka
Senator Akaka with Kupu AmeriCorps interns planting an ʻōhiʻa lehua at the Kupuaʻe ʻŌhiʻa Common Garden.
planting ʻōhiʻa at kahikina learning center
Kupu Intern tending to ʻōhiʻa at Kupuaʻe.

Goals and Objectives

The goal of Ulu Lehulehu is to honor the biocultural importance of ʻōhiʻa in Hawaiʻi by connecting people to, and creating landscapes abundant in ʻōhiʻa. Our hope is that all people of Hawaiʻi will gain and maintain a personal connection with ʻōhiʻa, whether through planting an ʻōhiʻa in a backyard, a community park or in a natural area. We hope that through this cultivated relationship with ʻōhiʻa, participants are inspired and empowered to make ʻōhiʻa a dominant landscape feature in our residential and commercially developed urban spaces. By helping to support the planting of one million ʻōhiʻa trees across the islands, we will ensure the perpetuation of this species for future generations.

This goal drives the following objectives:

  1. K-12: Classroom Education: Providing the tools and resources for ʻōhiʻa focused and national curriculum standard consistent education in the classroom.
  2. Community Outreach: Conducting ʻōhiʻa focused outreach within communities, and providing tools and resources for community groups to conduct their own ʻōhiʻa education.
  3. Community Forestry: Promoting the outplanting of one million ʻōhiʻa in residential, public and commercially developed spaces.
  4. Native Forest Restoration: Facilitating planting and providing information to the public on ʻōhiʻa forest restoration work across the state.

Education and Outreach: Our Kupu Interns and Forest Service Partners

In the last 6 years, Ulu Lehulehu has taught many hundreds of students and reached tens of thousands of citizens and visitors in Hawaiʻi. We seek to share the biocultural importance of the ʻōhiʻa tree in Hawai‘i and promote the embracing of a stewardship ethic across Hawaii .

james with sen. akaka

James Akau | 2011 – 2012

James Akau served as a Kupu EIP Intern in 2011-2012 supporting the start of Ulu Lehulehu and giving the project her name. Over the last five years James has continued to to support in-class presentations, ʻōhiʻa propagation activities, on-campus ʻōhiʻa plantings, coordinated huakaʻi service learning trips to Laupāhoehoe, and service learning activities in the Kupuaʻe ʻŌhiʻa Common Garden.
chris wong

Chris Wong | 2012 - 2013

With the goal of educating local communities about the cultural and ecological significance of ʻōhiʻa and promoting the use of native plants in urban landscaping, 2012-2013 Kupu EIP Intern Chris Wong provides outdoor lessons at Honokaʻa High School. Through this partnership, AmeriCorps interns have the opportunity to build the project from the bottom up. In the first year of the project, Chris Wong designed and built space at the Forest Service in Hilo, and raised thousands of ‘ōhi‘a seedlings, as well as developed the foundation to the program’s curriculum.
planting ʻōhia

Riley De Mattos | 2013 - 2014

Riley De Mattos, 2013-2014 Kupu EIP Intern, talks story with second grade students at Keaʻau Elementary, asking them what relationship they have to ‘ōhi‘a, and building onto the stories they share. Riley focused his year on seedling production, refining greenhouse operations, and establishing classroom transplanting activities. In his internship, he reached 519 students ranging from 2nd to 12th grade, and distributed 739 plants.
ulu lehulehu staff

Aleysia-Rae Kaha | 2014 - 2015

Aleysia-Rae Kaha, 2014-2015 Kupu EIP Intern, expanded outreach in public schools and community programs on Hawai‘i Island. In addition to the creation and integration of social media (Facebook and Instagram) for Ulu Lehulehu, Aleysia helped to develop a variety of games and activities to engage students during classroom presentations and community events, which included the Biodiversity Challenge, ‘Ōhi‘a Hula, The Gathering Tree, and Finding Your Seeds.
Ardena and Sen. Akaka

Ardena Saarinen | 2015 - 2017

Ardena is currently working with Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests staff to develop a pilot program that will strengthen our outreach within public and charter schools, and is also engaging both pre-K youth and parents through presentations and outreach. She engages in community biocultural outreach events to raise awareness about ʻōhiʻa and ROD. 2017 will be focused on work with real estate professionals, the 2017 Merrie Monarch Festival, and other local community groups and events. Ardena has organized and facilitated the Biocultural Education pilot program at LCPCS, preparing curriculum.
students planting ʻōhiʻa

The USDA Forest Service

The USDA Forest Service, and has been helping to lead Ulu Lehulehu since it began in 2012. Over the last five years the Forest Service has supported the Kupu EIP interns with classroom presentations and activities, community outreach events, greenhouse management and propagation of ʻōhiʻa, outdoor field trips, and service learning trips. They also coordinated the planting of the Kupuaʻe ʻŌhiʻa Common Garden in Laupāhoehoe with Kupu intern groups and visiting school groups, gave the name to the garden, and continues to work with interns to maintain and care for Kupuaʻe.