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Born of Fire

The ohia is one of the most beloved trees of the Hawaiian Islands.

In the exotic paradise of Hawaii, one of the most amazing trees is the ohia. This resilient tree is found throughout the islands, from the coasts to the tree line (10,000 feet). A consummate adapter, the ohia is able to withstand fierce winds and one of nature's most destructive forces, lava. On the big island of Hawaii, the ohia is one of the first life forms to emerge after the Kilauea volanco erupts.

Its red pompom-like blooms form the mainstay of many of master lei-maker Marie McDonald's creations. "The flowers and the tree itself are sacred to Laka and Kapo, both goddesses of the hula, the dance. And in Hawaiian practices, this tree is another form of that god."

On the other side of Hawaii's big island, Rocky Jensen has rekindled what was once a lost art — carving Hawaiian idols out of ohia wood. "I chose to carve ohia because it's a traditional wood that was carved in ancient times by our people. It was used for the state temples, and it was used to manifest the metaphysical into the physical world by incantations and prayers."

The ohia (pronounced oh-HEE-ah) is one of the most beloved trees in Hawaii.

The ohia's roots stretch far and wide, preserving and sustaining life on the islands. "The ohia is the bond that holds the whole forest together," says Iokepa Naeole, volunteer coordinator for the Maui Nature Conservancy. "It's the tree that allows others to grow around it and on top of it. To me it's like the parent or the grandparent of the forest."

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