This federally-listed endangered species has been known to exist on all the major Hawaiian Islands in addition to Nihoa and Neckar islands. The wild population ‘ōhai is estimated to be at 2,000-3,000 individuals spread across the state. This partially-woody shrub-like plant of the Fabaceae (Pea) family does extremely well in the xeric (drought resistant) landscape. Well adapted to the tropical dryland forest climate, ‘ōhai grows from sea level to as high as 3,000’ elevation. Oftentimes, we see the shorter, more prostrate variety that spreads out from a central location, but populations on Moloka‘i are well known for their arborescent or tree-like forms that can grow up to 15-30’ tall! The leaves are pinnately compound and have a sweet-smelling fragrance from the newer leaf buds!
‘Ōhai will do best in well-draining, dryer soils, and is susceptible to root damage and pest infestations if overwatered. Sources say that the average lifespan for the typical ‘ōhai is about 5-7 years, with some cultivated specimens living for 10+.
Historically, their beautiful red, salmon, and orange flowers were used in lei.