`Ōhi`a lehua, Metrosideros polymorph, is the most common hardwood tree in Hawai`i and the most common tree of the wet forest. It is endemic to all major islands except Kaho`olawe and Ni`ihau. It is the first tree to appear on new lava flows, where it provides watershed protection and habitat for native birds and insects. `Ōhi`a lehua is also found in mature forests - frequently growing alongside native koa (Acacia koa Gray).
`Ōhi`a lehua is surprisingly adaptable to a wide range of habitats from about sea level to nearly 7,000 feet, in lava fields, dry forests, wet forests and bogs. Its mature height is four inches in forest bogs, but in young volcanic substrates in rain forest habitats it can reach 100 feet.
These large `ōhi`a trees where found along side the road on Koloko Drive on the slopes above Kailua-Kona. Large stands of `ōhi`a trees can be seen on the road from Hilo to Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. Young `ōhi`a trees can be seen on the newer lava flows when travelling from South Point to the Volcano area.
The Hawaiian name for the `ōhi`a flower lehua means "hair". These lovely fluffy red (but occasionally salmon or yellow) flowers represent the Island of Hawai`i and have long been used in lei making.
`Ōhi`a lehua wood is extremely hard, dark red, polishes nicely but is difficult to cure. Early Hawaiians used the wood for tools, weapons and temple images. Modern uses include flooring, fence posts, and fuel.
The wooden structural supports of Hulihe`e Palace are `ōhi`a. The Mokuaikaua Church, across Ali'i Drive from the Palace, was also constructed using `ōhi`a structural members.
Lei with yellow and red lehua