Hawaii makes for the perfect home for palm trees thanks to the warm temperature and tropical climate.
Palm trees come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from perennial lianas to shrubs.
Because of just how well-suited palm trees are for the Hawaiian climate, you would be forgiven for thinking that they are entirely native to the islands.
However, only one species of the palm tree is actually native to Hawaii.
In this article, we are going to be looking at this species in particular, including where it tends to grow and how it was used by native Hawaiians. Let’s get started.
The Native Hawaiian Palm Tree
The only palm tree in Hawaii that is actually native to the land is the Loulu Palm Tree.
The Loulu refers to any and all palm tree species that come under the scientific name of the genus Pritchardia.
The Loulou is an incredibly graceful and gorgeous palm species, with a distinctive element to them that can be found in the wet to mesic forests.
Known as “fan palms”, Lolulu’s have deeply pleated leaves that are round and broad with narrow, pointed leaf tips.
The tips can either droop or stand in a stiff, erect manner. However, the Lolulu is also known for growing beautiful flowers.
These flowers grow from the plant on stalks that range in size quite significantly, from around 2 feet in length all the way up to 10 feet in length in certain species.
There are also spherical fruits that can grow from the Lolulu that can range from 0.75 inches in diameter to more than 2 inches. When ripe, these fruits take on a black and shiny aesthetic.
In terms of size, the Lolulu can range from the small- with their smallest iterations being little plants that are able to cling to wet and steep slopes even in strong winds- all the way to giant, with the largest Lolulu species reaching towering heights of around 80 feet tall.
These particularly tall Lolulu palms can rise so high that they tower above the rest of the forest canopy. Lolulu’s are able to grow in super high elevations too, usually between the heights of 2,000 and 3,000 feet.
The Diversity Of The Lolulu And Where They Are Found
Throughout Hawaii, the Lolulu has a particularly diverse nature, with around 24 different species spread out across the eight islands of Hawaii.
Six of these species are found on two islands specifically, whereas the rest of the genus Pritchardia are single island endemics.
Let’s take a closer look at where each species can be found.
- Kaua’i: 7 Species
- O’ahu: 5 Species
- Hawai’i: 5 Species
- Maui: 5 Species
- Moloka’i: 4 Species
- U’i Naho’olewa: 2 Species
- Lana’i: 2 Species
- Nihoa: 1 Species
- Ni’ihau: 1 Species
The Loulu In Hawaiian History And Culture
Much like a wide range of other native plant species, the Loulu was used by Hawaiians throughout history.
The pleated and broad surfaces of the Loulu palm trees were often used as thatching for rooves thanks to the perfect shape and texture.
The leaves would be used as shingles, as they could last much longer than regular grass thatching.
Another way in which these leaves would be used would be as makeshift umbrellas, thanks to that broad nature.
This also made them perfect for creating headgear that would keep the users dry in the wet weather.
Native Hawaiians would often eat the immature fruits that could be found on the Loulu palms.
The sub-mature green seeds that grew upon them were thought to be a delicacy, known by their Hawaiian name of wahane or hawane.
These seeds could be cracked open and inside them grew a delicious and soft white meat.
This meat is said to have a similar taste to niu haohao, otherwise known as the meat that is found within green coconuts.
Humans weren’t the only ones to make the most out of what the Loulu had to offer.
The Ula-ʻai-hāwane- a small gray and red bird that is now extinct but was once native to the Hawaiian islands- was said to have regularly made use of the nectar that the Loulu provided.
Threats To The Loulu
Unfortunately, the Loulu is nowhere near as prominent as it once was thanks to deforestation, with the palm being listed as one of the most endangered species of tree in the United States.
However, there are also more natural threats to the plant species, including pigs, goats, and rats.
The animals are attracted to the trees thanks to their edible seeds, and the process of taking the seeds from the trees can damage them.
The Loulu palm tree is the only palm that is native to Hawaii, with a rich history that makes it a staple of Hawaiian culture in terms of plant life.
Make sure to have a look around at conservation possibilities to see if there is a way to get involved with the protection of the Loulu!