Hala, Pandanus tectorius, is a small tree growing 25 tall and from 15 to 35 feet around. It's most distinctive feature are long blade-like leaves (lau hala) about 2 inches wide and over 2 feet long. Most varieties have spines along the edges and on the midribs of the leaves.
Hala trees develop support or prop roots at the base of the trunk and sometimes along the branches.
Hala trees are either male or female. Female trees produce a large, segmented fruit. Individual seed segments are called keys and are red or yellow when ripe. The fruit is often mistaken for a pineapple. Male trees produce long clusters of tiny, fragrant flowers surrounded by pale bracts. The flower clusters are called hinano in Hawaiian.
The hala is thought to be indigenous to Hawai`i, but the early Polynesians may have introduced various varieties. The hala tree is found on all the main islands except Kaho`olawe. The hala tree is found in the rest of Polynesia, in Micronesia, Melanesia, and as far west as northern Australia. It is also known as pandanus, pu hala, and Screw Pine.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the hala tree to the Polynesian. Hala was valued most for its leaves which were woven into mats, baskets, and even canoe sails.The fat ends of the ripe keys were included in leis. Key could also be cooked or eaten raw during famine times. When dried the keys were used as paint brushes for decorating tapa.
The tradition of hala weaving continues in Hawai`i to this day. The main products of today's weavers are mats, baskets, and hats. You can purchase locally crafted lauhala items in the Palace Gift Shop.