Scientific Name: Sesbania tomentosa
Endemic Endangered Species
Description: Very cool, to say the least, with unreal-looking flowers. These are small, upright trees 10 to 18 feet tall, with evenly pinnate leaves, which means that they have an even number of leaflets on each compound leaf.
Young leaves also have shiny, golden hairs on the surface, an evolutionary adaptation to help reflect the sun so that they don’t dry out. The hairy texture of the leaves is called tomentos.
The plant’s flowers are pea-shaped and about 2 inches long. They emerge in clusters of about two to five and are either bright orange or orange with streaks of yellow and red. Once the flowers have been pollinated, narrow seed pods form, filled with small green-dark brown seeds.
Distribution: All forms are registered as the same species and all are listed as endangered. This form comes from the arid, rocky coastline of Apua point on the island of Hawaii.
Cultural Uses: The flowers of ohai are strung into lei, either front to back, side to side (facing forward, keel down) or with the keel of the flowers alternating up and down. Actually, it doesn’t matter how you arrange the flowers; as long as you are wearing this lei you’ll be “da talk of da party.” Besides looking awesome, if you hold the flower by its stem and hit it on the top of your other hand, a few drops of sweet nectar will come out that you can lick up – da buggah ono!
Landscape Uses and Care: This plant will require full sun with minimal watering and well-drained soil. Watch out for aphids and spider-mites. If you notice these, smoosh ’em with your fingers, shoot them off with water or spray them with pesticides.
Additional Information: Sorry to say, but the plant known to most of us as ohai alii is not native – in fact, it’s not even a Polynesian introduction. When it was brought to the islands, it was given that name because its leaves resemble those of the real ohai and its flowers are red and yellow – the colors of the alii, or royalty.Ohai