‘Ohe makai is a member of the Araliaceae family, and is known to grow from about 100’ to 2600’ elevation on the islands of Hawai’i, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Oahu, and Ni’ihau. Similar to wiliwili, ‘ohe makai is a drought-deciduous tree that has the ability to lose its leaves during the dry season in order to conserve energy until favorable conditions resume. However, when it does have leaves, they are thick, glossy, and deep green. When mature, they can reach heights of 50’, and a spread of over 60’. The flowers appear on short racemes (usually in the winter), and range in color from greenish-yellow, to orange-purple. They are not very showy and may be easy to miss if viewing the tree from afar. Once pollinated, the fruit develops as small and dark purple.
In the landscape setting, ‘ohe makai makes for a great container or specimen plant which requires very little water. This tree is perfect for a xeric landscape and will actually suffer if there is too much moisture in the soil, once established the ‘ohe makai will only need watering during the most extreme drought-like conditions. During the summer months, the trees will lose their leaves, however, as they age, each tree will take on a unique shape that is beautiful enough on its own.
Historically, ‘ohe makai also goes by another name- kukuluae’o, which gives reference to the Hawaiian black-necked stilt, and was used in a fun game in which people would make and walk around on stilts made from this tree! It is also known, that the ‘ohe makai was used medicinally to treat thrush and general ailments of babies and infants. The fruits of the ‘ohe makai would be eaten by the other of the child and the medicinal properties would be passed on via breast milk.