POSTED: 5 MARCH 2006 - 8:00pm HST

Hala: The Screw-Pine

Hala tree, with fruit, on cliff near Hana, Maui

Birds and Plants of Kauai:
by Linda Pascatore on 5 March 2006

The Hala, also called the Screw-Pine or Pandanus tectorius, is a palm-like tree which can grow to 20 feet. The trunk is light colored with markings where the leaves have fallen. Leaves are long, slender and saw-toothed with sharp spines on the edges. The leaves are bent and arranged in a spiral pattern, as the common name screw-pine suggests.

Proproots or aerial roots grow around the trunk, giving the hau the nickname “walking tree”. When it is said that a mother’s children “are like the many-rooted hala of the mountain side”, it means that she is like the trunk of the tree, surrounded by many loving children like the roots of the hala.

The male tree has white flowers, called hanano, but no fruit. The hanano flowers attract insects and bees which then carry the pollen to the female tree. The fruit of the hala looks a little like a small pineapple, and is about 8 inches in diameter.

Fruit of the Hala (Screw-Pine) on female tree

The fruit is red or yellow when ripe, and broken into keys or sections. The inner part of the keys is edible and sweet, but very stringy. The keys float, and can float for long periods in seawater, and still seed a new tree. The Hala may be indigenous to Hawaii, but also could have been brought here by the Polynesians.

Hawaiians used hala leaves for weaving lauhala mats (lau means leaf), and hats, fans, baskets, canoe sails, and bags. Leaves were also used for thatching roofs. Hawaiians traditionally used hala leaves to cover dead bodies. The pollen of the male flower was considered a love potion, and was also used to preserve feathers and leis. The young root tips were medicinal. The wood of the tree has been used to make posts and calabashes. The keys were dried and used as paint brushes for decorating tapa cloth.

Hala is found on all Hawaiian islands, and also throughout Polynesia, and as far as Australia. In Hawaii, it can be found along the shore, on steep cliffs, and in lowland forests. The Hala was originally the dominant tree in the lowland wet forests of the Hawaiian Islands. According to legend, when Pele first landed in Hawaii, her canoe was caught and tangled in the roots and leaves of the hala. In anger, Pele ripped up the tree and threw it across the island. The resilent hala rooted and sprouted wherever it landed, and became one of the most abundant trees.

Hawaiian quilt with Hala tree pattern

For more on Hawaiian Nature see below:
Island Breath: Hawaiian Nature Menu
The Flora and Fauna of Hawaii
20 February 2006 - 10:00am

Akekeke: The Ruddy Turnstone found in the winter months on rocky beaches and mudflats of Hawaii
19 March 2006 - 10:00pm

Koae kea: The Tropic Bird soaring in flight it displays a swallow-like tail and striking back markings