Oh Hello! ‘Ōhelo

‘Ōhelo, (pronounced ‘Oh hello’ in Hawaii), is a plant related to the Cranberry and Blueberry that grows on Maui. Vaccinium reticulatum as it is called scientifically, is a flowering plant growing on lava flows and volcanic ash at elevations between 640 and 3,700′ on Maui and Hawaii’s Big Island.

‘Ōhelo berries are considered Sacred to Pele, the Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes. Additionally, ‘Ōhelo are a staple in the diet of the protected Nēnē Goose. ‘Ōhelo are tasty and like many fruits the flavor is sometimes sweet, sometimes tart, and sometimes neither. The color of ‘Ōhelo berries can be a variety of warm shades ranging from red to orange to yellow. The color of the fruit is no indicator of flavor. It’s flavor is a big surprise.

It is asked that you not harvest or eat any of the wild growing ‘Ōhelo berries during your visit. Harvesting the berries in the wild disrupts the delicate landscape habitat by damaging native vegetation and possibly introducing invasive hitchhiking seeds or bacteria while taking an important food source away from the Nēnē Goose. Please leave the berries for the Hawaiian Nēnē so the digested seeds can pass thru the Nēnē and stay with the land thus increasing the propagation of the native plants and for feeding future generations of this gorgeous native goose. If the berries are eaten by you the seeds will pass through you and… Let’s not get into that here…

Fortunately, almost everyone will honor the request to preserve the berries for the Nēnē and the island. Respecting this request is appreciated, while dishonoring the rule can end with serious unwanted consequences. Nature has an interesting way of keeping us on our toes. There is a very similar plant growing side by side to the ‘Ōhelo. This plant known as ʻĀkia grows an almost identical looking berry. Only this plant, similar in appearance, possesses a secret, it is poisonous to humans, possibly causing seizure and death. It is said that ʻĀkia was used as an old Hawai’i death penalty for breaking Kapu (Laws, code of conduct). There is some debate as to the toxicity of the ʻĀkia plant.  As is often the case there may be some confusion about the correct identification of the plant putting the toxicity in question. It may be best to not risk poisoning oneself.

In 2010, University of Hawai’i researchers developed two ‘Ōhelo cultivars they have named ‘Kīlauea’ and ‘Red Button.’ These are the first ornamental-edible berry cultivars selected in Hawai’i. They can be grown at home by Maui residents interested in growing their own berries. Visitors interested in tasting ‘Ōhelo berry may be able to find ‘Ōhelo Berry Jam in gift shops, farmers markets or on-line.

‘Ōhelo is a pioneer species. Often the first to put roots into lava or ash making the way for other plant species to follow. The roots and dropped leaves hold the much needed moisture needed by other species of plants and animals to survive. Mahalo in advance for allowing this very important plant to thrive in its natural environment.

For more ways to be mindful of nature on Maui visit our blog titled “Tips for Being Mindful of Nature and Others while Visiting Maui.” We hope you enjoy what we are creating here at ConsciousMaui.com. Come back often, tell your friends, and please follow us on Facebook for weather, current events on Maui, and the latest blog posts. ConsciousMaui.com is here to connect conscious consumers with like-minded individual creators and businesses.  Aloha!

The painting of Goddess Pele (top left) is the work of artist, Bruce Harman.
If you are interested in collecting some of his art it is available for purchase at https://www.harmanvisions.com/ or at
the Sacred Garden of Maliko at 460 Kaluanui Rd, Makawao, Maui, HI.