Amy Tsuneyoshi
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Can you believe it is already April? May will be here before we know it, and you know what that means – Lei Day! Lei Day is celebrated on May 1 in Hawai‘i. After being on hiatus for the past two years due to COVID-19, the Lei Day Celebration is returning to Kapi‘olani Park! I look forward to seeing the creative lei entries that will be submitted by all the lei makers. This year, the 2022 theme is Lei Wao Nahele or Forest Lei and the theme flower is ‘a‘ali‘i (Dodonaea viscosa).

‘A‘ali‘i is native to Hawai‘i, meaning the plant was growing here before humans inhabited the islands. The plant reached Hawai‘i by the three W’s: wind, water (ocean), or wings (birds). It can be further classified as indigenous, meaning it is native to Hawai‘i as well as other parts of the world. 

‘A‘ali‘i is a large shrub-small tree that can tolerate a range of growing conditions and elevations; from barren exposed lava to the seacoast to up in the mountain forests. The bark is dark and gnarled in contrast to the narrow green leaves. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, but the fruit capsules are eye catching, ranging in color from chartreuse to blood red.

The fruit capsules can have two to four wings, and when you pop open the capsules, there will be smooth, dark brown-black round seeds. Lei makers use these fruit capsules to add color and texture to their creations.  The fruit capsules are sturdy and won’t wilt as quickly as flowers. This is a great plant to add to your landscape if you have the space. Ideally, you may want to plant the plants as the plant will usually produce only male or female flowers. Sometimes, you’ll be lucky and have hermaphrodite flowers that have both male and female parts. Only flowers with female parts will produce fruit capsules if they are pollinated.  

Interested in planting this for your lei garden? Check out your favorite local garden shop. If they don’t carry these plants, ask them to start selling native plants. If you know someone that is already growing ‘a‘ali‘i that produces fruit capsules, ask them for some seeds to grow your own plants. It will take a little while before they mature and start flowering so in the meantime, you can grow other plants like ti leaf, palapalai fern, bozu, and plumeria for your lei garden.

There are various methods to make lei and you can let your creativity be your guide on what type of materials to use. If you are new to lei making, you can search for classes or workshops in your community to learn the basics. Check out the links below for information on O‘ahu activities. 

Have fun creating a lei for this year’s Lei Day celebration!

• Lei Day: honolulu.gov/parks/program/182-site-dpr-cat/1685-lei-day.html

• HBG Spring 2022 Classes Session 2: honolulu.gov/parks/program/182-site-dpr-cat/1685-lei-day.html

Amy Tsuneyoshi grew up playing in the mud and still finds joy in getting her hands in the soil. She grows a variety of edible and ornamental plants in her urban jungle as well as native Hawaiian plants. She has a degree in Horticulture from the University of Hawai‘i, Mänoa, and is currently the President of the Friends of Hälawa Xeriscape Garden.

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