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Ulu Lehulehu

Million ʻŌhiʻa Initiative

Mahalo for visiting Ulu Lehulehu. We are grateful for your interest in ʻōhiʻa, and your commitment to perpetuating ʻōhiʻa across landscapes of Hawaii.

Ulu Lehulehu—Million ʻŌhiʻa Initiative promotes the protection, planting and restoration of ‘ōhi‘a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), a Hawai‘i endemic tree monarch of Hawaiʻi’s forests, and biocultural anchor.

UluTo grow, increase, or spread; to protect.

LehulehuMultitude, numerous, innumerable, myriad.

Definitions from Nā Puke Wehewehe

keiki hands

Hilo Union students getting their hands dirty as they learn to propagate seedlings with Ulu Lehulehu interns.


Bringing the forest to our backyards—Ulu Lehulehu raising ʻōhiʻa plants in the greenhouse to give away to schools and at community events.

planting and transplanting

Education and outreach at Keaʻau Elementary—planting and transplanting ʻōhiʻa.


The ‘ōhi‘a lehua is by far the most bioculturally important tree species in Hawai‘i. The ‘ōhi‘a is truly the ecological keystone of Hawaiʻi’s native forests and watersheds, covering more than one million acres statewide, and providing habitat for countless other native species of plants, birds and insects. The ‘ōhi‘a is also the cultural keystone for native Hawaiian people, supporting beliefs and traditional lifeways and practices. The relationship between Pele, the deity of fire and lava who is both a destroyer and creator of land, with her youngest and most cherished sister, Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, a healer and nurturer of new growth, is one of cycles and a system in balance.The ‘ōhi‘a emerging from a fresh lava flow is perhaps the most iconic representation of the ‘ōhi‘a relationships with Hawai‘i and her people.

‘Ōhi‘a lehua is critical to maintaining the diversity, structure, and function of Hawai‘i’s native forests. This ecological foundation provides food and habitat to numerous native plant, animal, and invertebrate species, and also affects our watersheds by capturing water, reducing erosion and sediment runoff into our streams and reefs, and providing countless goods and services to the people of Hawai‘i.


“Pōki'i ka ua, ua i ka lehua...the rain, like a younger brother, remains with the lehua”

Kaūmana Trail, October 2016

Mary Kawena Pukui, ʻŌlelo Noʻeau


ʻŌhiʻa forest on Mauna Loa

Native Hawaiians hold the ʻōhiʻa as a cherished family member, and the sacred relationship between people and species is seen throughout native Hawaiian culture. ‘Ōhi‘a forests have been treasured by native Hawaiians as the foundation for hula where liko (tender leaves) and lehua blossoms are used to adorn dancers with the bodily manifestation of Hawaiian gods of the forest. The ‘ōhi‘a also supports the culture with countless uses, including wood for construction and various parts of the plant for medicine and craft. The many roles played by ʻōhiʻa in society has been captured in moʻolelo (stories), inoa wahipana (place names), oli (chants), mele (songs), hula (dance), and ʻōlelo noʻeau (traditional sayings), all celebrating the enormous value of this species to Hawai‘i and her people.

The ʻōhiʻa has been steadily disappearing from our landscapes becauses of changes in land-use such as development or agricultural driven deforestation, spread of aggressive invasive species, and and diseases such as ʻōhiʻa rust (Puccinia). Recently, Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD), a highly severe vascular wilt fungus (Ceratocystis), has become a devastating disease that kills ʻōhiʻa. The disease is spreading rapidly across Hawai‘i Island, and a diverse partnership has mobilized to meet this new threat (www.rapidohiadeath.org) through outreach to reduce the spread of the disease, research on disease resistance, and rapid response to contain new outbreaks. In the face of these threats, The Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests is supporting biocultural strategies for protecting, and where needed, restoring our ʻōhiʻa forests, with the goal of perpetuating our ʻōhiʻa forests.


Ulu Lehulehu—Million ʻŌhiʻa Initiative was born from the simple need to bring ʻōhiʻa back into our yards, schools, parks, and everyday lives. This collaboration between USDA Forest Service and Kupu (Hawai‘i’s host for AmeriCorps) allows the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests to provide an innovative model for partnership-driven, place-based biocultural stewardship, outreach and restoration.

Ulu Lehulehu has reached over 1700 Hawai‘i Island students through classroom visits, raised and distributed 1,200 ʻōhiʻa seedlings to schools and community groups, and reached tens of thousands of citizens through presentations and social media. We have established an ʻōhiʻa forest of 800 trees in the Kupua‘e ‘Ōhi‘a Common Garden, an effort to restore pasture lands at the Hawai‘i Experimental Tropical Forest (HETF) in Laupāhoehoe. These trees are part of the Foundation’s 10-year initiative, modeled after NYC Million Trees Initiative, to plant one million ʻōhiʻa trees statewide.


Senator Akaka with Kupu AmeriCorps interns planting an ʻōhiʻa lehua at the Kupua‘e ‘Ōhi‘a Common Garden.

planting and transplanting

Kupu Intern tending to ʻōhiʻa at Kupuaʻe.


The goal of Ulu Lehulehu is to honor the biocultural importance of ʻōhiʻa in Hawai‘i by connecting people to, and creating landscapes abundant in ʻōhiʻa. Our hope is that all people of Hawaiʻi will gain and maintain a personal connection with ʻōhiʻa, whether through planting an ʻōhiʻa in a backyard, a community park or in a natural area. We hope that through this cultivated relationship with ʻōhiʻa, participants are inspired and empowered to make ʻōhiʻa a dominant landscape feature in our residential and commercially developed urban spaces. By helping to support the planting of one million ʻōhiʻa trees across the islands, we will ensure the perpetuation of this species for future generations.

This goal drives the following objectives:

  1. K-12: Classroom Education: Providing the tools and resources for ʻōhiʻa focused and national curriculum standard consistent education in the classroom.
  2. Community Outreach: Conducting ʻōhiʻa focused outreach within communities, and providing tools and resources for community groups to conduct their own ʻōhiʻa education.
  3. Community Forestry: Promoting the outplanting of one million ʻōhiʻa in residential, public and commercially developed spaces.
  4. Native Forest Restoration: Facilitating planting and providing information to the public on ʻōhiʻa forest restoration work across the state.


In the last 6 years, Ulu Lehulehu has taught many hundreds of students and reached tens of thousands of citizens and visitors in Hawaiʻi. We seek to share the biocultural importance of the ʻōhiʻa tree in Hawai‘i and promote the embracing of a stewardship ethic across Hawaii .

James Akau

James Akau | 2011 - 2012

James Akau served as a Kupu EIP Intern in 2011-2012 supporting the start of Ulu Lehulehu and giving the project her name. Over the last five years James has continued to to support in-class presentations, ʻōhiʻa propagation activities, on-campus ʻōhiʻa plantings, coordinated huaka‘i service learning trips to Laupāhoehoe, and service learning activities in the Kupuaʻe ʻŌhiʻa Common Garden.

Chris Wong

Chris Wong | 2012 - 2013

With the goal of educating local communities about the cultural and ecological significance of ʻōhiʻa and promoting the use of native plants in urban landscaping, 2012-2013 Kupu EIP Intern Chris Wong provides outdoor lessons at Honokaʻa High School. Through this partnership, AmeriCorps interns have the opportunity to build the project from the bottom up. In the first year of the project, Chris Wong designed and built space at the Forest Service in Hilo, and raised thousands of ‘ōhi‘a seedlings, as well as developed the foundation to the program’s curriculum.

Riley De Mattos

Riley De Mattos | 2013 - 2014

Riley De Mattos, 2013-2014 Kupu EIP Intern, talks story with second grade students at Keaʻau Elementary, asking them what relationship they have to ‘ōhi‘a, and building onto the stories they share. Riley focused his year on seedling production, refining greenhouse operations, and establishing classroom transplanting activities. In his internship, he reached 519 students ranging from 2nd to 12th grade, and distributed 739 plants.

Aleysia-Rae Kaha

Aleysia-Rae Kaha | 2014 - 2015

Aleysia-Rae Kaha, 2014-2015 Kupu EIP Intern, expanded outreach in public schools and community programs on Hawai‘i Island. In addition to the creation and integration of social media (Facebook and Instagram) for Ulu Lehulehu, Aleysia helped to develop a variety of games and activities to engage students during classroom presentations and community events, which included the Biodiversity Challenge, ‘Ōhi‘a Hula, The Gathering Tree, and Finding Your Seeds.

Ardena Saarinen

Ardena Saarinen | 2015 - 2017

Ardena is currently working with Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests staff to develop a pilot program that will strengthen our outreach within public and charter schools, and is also engaging both pre-K youth and parents through presentations and outreach. She engages in community biocultural outreach events to raise awareness about ʻōhiʻa and ROD. 2017 will be focused on work with real estate professionals, the 2017 Merrie Monarch Festival, and other local community groups and events. Ardena has organized and facilitated the Biocultural Education pilot program at LCPCS, preparing curriculum.

US Forest Service

The USDA Forest Service

The USDA Forest Service, and has been helping to lead Ulu Lehulehu since it began in 2012. Over the last five years the Forest Service has supported the Kupu EIP interns with classroom presentations and activities, community outreach events, greenhouse management and propagation of ʻōhiʻa, outdoor field trips, and service learning trips. They also coordinated the planting of the Kupuaʻe ʻŌhiʻa Common Garden in Laupāhoehoe with Kupu intern groups and visiting school groups, gave the name to the garden, and continues to work with interns to maintain and care for Kupuaʻe.

Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests and Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD)

Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD) was first thought to be the cause of mortality in lower Puna as early as 2010. By the time of its positive identification as Ceratocystis in 2014 by University of Hawaiʻi College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, USDA Agricultural Research Service, and USDA Forest Service scientists, ROD has since killed millions of ʻōhiʻa across 50,000 acres of Hawai‘i Island in Puna, South Hilo, Ka‘ū, and South Kona. A vascular wilt fungus, Ceratocystis, infects the trees impairing their vascular functioning, and causing treetops (crowns) to appear as though they are experiencing drought. As the tops of the trees experience an obstructed water supply, they begin to wilt, and the tree crown turns yellow or brown. After this first visible indication of ROD infection, trees die within days or up to a few weeks.

The fungus that causes ROD is thought to spread through multiple vectors, including the ambrosia beetle which bore into infected trees and create frass (sawdust), which then becomes windborne and enters healthy trees either through wounds or the soil. People can also possibly spread the fungus through contaminated tools, shoes, clothing, vehicles, and transporting infected logs, wood, and soil. The disease is limited to specific areas of Hawai‘i Island, and it is important that we all do our part to minimize the spread of ROD by following the protocol outlined by the Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Strategic Response Plan and the brochure.

Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests supports a biocultural the approach to reduce the threat of ROD. This involves collaboratively conceived and implemented outreach, which is community and culturally driven and agency assisted.

As active members of the Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD) working group, staff have worked closely with a dedicated outreach team to reduce the spread and impacts of ROD. As part of this team, they co-led and facilitated ROD focused biocultural outreach for the 2016 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaiʻi. Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests staff co-organized the Puaʻenaʻena Ceremony, a new fire ritual developed and led by Kekuhi Kealiikanakaoleohaililani, that allowed for the perpetuation of traditional cultural practices in hula, and provided a mechanism that reduced threats to the health of our ʻōhiʻa forests. It was this project specifically that illustrates the value of co-developing and co-managing natural resources with the cultural practitioners and greater community. With tremendous respect for the people involved in this undertaking, Akaka Foundation holds this type of collaborative culturally based outreach as the standard for our future endeavors.

Biocultural outreach for the 2016 Merrie Monarch Festival

Merrie Monarch

Biocultural outreach for the 2016 Merrie Monarch Festival


One way that we can ensure the continued legacy of ʻōhiʻa forests in Hawai‘i in the face of ROD and other threats, is to collect and store millions of seeds. Seeds collected from wild populations by multiple partner agencies can be used for reforestation efforts and research for genetic resistance to diseases such as ROD. Ulu Lehulehu, in partnership with University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa Lyon Arboretum, and USDA Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF), has created a seed bank with support staff from Ulu Lehulehu for East Hawai‘i Island. Housed at IPIF in Hilo, this seed bank will supplement the efforts of ʻŌhiʻa Love Seed Banking Project, and ensure that the ʻōhiʻa will remain in our environment for decades to come.

Biocultural Education Program

Started in 2017 to address the loss of connection between youth and the natural world that sustains Hawai’i. There is an enormous need to more effectively engage youth in the ecology and culture of Hawai’i, and so we launched a biocultural education program with Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School (LCPCS). This year-long program focuses on all 9th grade students of the LCPCS, and sequences in-class presentations and discussion, field trips to the Kupu’ae, an overnight bioculturally grounded huaka’i, or service learning trip, on windward Hawai’i Island with the 10,000 acre Laupāhoehoe unit of the HETF as a focal geography, and a second overnight huaka‘i on with the 40,000 acre Puu Wa’awa’a ridge to reef unit of the HETF as a focal geography. By the end of the school year, all LCPCS 9th graders had gained an appreciation for: the remarkable biological diversity of their island home; cultural geography of North Hilo, Hamakua, North Kona and South Kohala districts; native Hawaiian protocol for entering into natural areas; and through hands on restoration projects across widely ranging forest types, the impacts of species invasions, climate change but also active stewardship on the health of our forests, watersheds and near shore areas.


The Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests is a 501C3 incorporated in the state of Hawai‘i

Akaka Foundation For Tropical Forests
c/o Cades Schutte LLP
P.O. Box 1525 Kamuela, Hawaii
96743, USA