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Polynesian Agroforestry (Poly-Forestry)

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Location: wanderer
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Koa Hewahewa wrote:If a single tree is planted alone on a hill, then it is left to battle the elements alone. If a tree is planted alongside other forestry, those surroundings will protect it; allowing all to flourish. Such is the life of our native forests. The same is true of keiki. A child surrounded and protected by mākua, kūpuna and ʻohana is healthier.

Poly-Forestry (Polynesian Agroforestry) is a unique method of reforestation developed by the ʻOhana Hewahewa, which fuses Hawaiian indigenous farming techniques and knowledge with modern day tools and technologies. This method is bio-diverse with dense planting done in a successional way. It incorporates Native Hawaiian canoe crops, like kalo (taro) maiʻa (banana), Kō (sugarcane) etc., with our Native Hawaiian forest trees such as Koa (Acacia koa) and ʻOhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha). Together these plants create a ʻOhana Style effect, which is the mindset and value system of ʻOhana Hewahewa when farming and managing lands, staff and operation. Hōkūnui Farms is planting 20-acres of native trees on land that was used for plantation agriculture for 100 years.

The important idea of family style planting is having family together, to take on the challenges and successes of life. When plants, animals and humans alike are in their younger stages of growth, they are very susceptible and vulnerable to pests and predators. Planting in a successional method, such as planting the fast-growing hardier plants simultaneously with the slower, fragile plants, allows the hardier plants to provide quick protection from wind and pest.

Other contributing factors to this thriving farming method are:
Kaulana Mahina: Understanding the Hawaiian Moon calendar and how it affects flora and fauna. The moon dictates the moving of all liquid including the water in the biology of the plants and animals. This knowledge allows us to schedule our work days, weeks and year to the benefit of the plants, depending on the phase of the moon.
Dense planting: Planting plants very close together. Benefits of this planting style includes windbreak, shade to shade out weed growth, and pest control. It also helps some of our trees to self-prune, dropping its organic matter or leafy material in place to mulch our trees.
Bio-Diversity: Planting many different varieties of plants.
Pest Trapping: Planting many different varieties of plants together to create a diversion for the pests to confuse and distract them from attacking our vulnerable native trees.
Mulching: The use of leaves, grass and wood chips to suppress weed growth and protect the soil from evaporation. Mulch can hold moisture and self-distribute water when necessary.

(E) Endemic: Plants found only here in Hawaiʻi.
(I) Indigenous: Plants found here in Hawaiʻi, but also in other places around the world.

Native Hawaiian trees function as protectors of the smaller trees and shrubs and play an important role in our unique native Hawaiian watersheds. These trees provide canopy to capture rainfall and fog to distribute moisture evenly outward, down through the root system and into our aquifers to provide us with drinking water. They create an entire self-sustaining eco-system within that biota which provides rich nutrient soils and precious habitat for our native birds, insects and other native flora and fauna.

• (E) Koa (Acacia Koa): One of the most valuable wood sources in ancient times; canoes and many hand tools were carved using its beautiful wood. Koa has the ability to fix nitrogen and fertilize the forest. Itss sickled leaves drip water down and around, which also acts as irrigation for the forest. 

• (E) ʻOhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha): Known as a pioneer specie, for it is usually the first tree to grow on lava. Its strong taproot can break through blue rock and distribute water to our aquifer. ʻOhiʻa can be found in many forms, from a sprawling shrub to the tallest tree in the forest, hence the species “polymorpha” meaning many forms. It was also a very valuable hardwood with many uses.

These medium trees are the second filter of the forest that helps break the fall of water from impacting smaller more vulnerable groundcover and soil. In our ohana style planting, we utilize canoe crops for the same function which also provides food for our land and people. Canoe crops are valuable plants brought by ancient voyages across the ocean for food, shelter, clothing and tools (cordage/rope, basketry, storage, etc.)

• (I) ʻAʻaliʻi (Dodonaea viscosa): The tree that withstands the strongest of winds. Drought tolerant and windbreaker for our smaller native shrubs and trees

• (I) Maiʻa (Banana): Food source, used in imu (underground oven)

• (E) Māmaki (Pipturus albidus): Clothing, medicinal, drank as tea, hand tools

• (I) (Sugarcane) (Saccharum officinarum): Food source, medicinal, thatching, windbreak

• (I) Lāʻī (Ti Leaf): Cultural and traditional uses, medicinal, storage, lei, clothing

These plants include ground covers such as ferns and mosses. The understory, or groundcovers, play an important role in protecting the soil and acting as living mulch that holds and distributes water in wet or dry times. They also provide a vast eco-system for our microorganisms and micro-flora and fauna.

• (I) Kalo (Colocasia esculenta): Most respected and valuable food source in ancient times and now; main staple food

• (I) Kupukupu (Nephrolepis cordifolia): Lei making, kūpeʻe (wristlet and anklets) and haku (head lei)

• (I) Palapalai (Microlepia strigosa var. strigosa): Lei making, used culturally and traditionally in Hula

• (I) Maile (Alyxia stellata): Highly prized for lei making, used culturally and traditionally in Hula. Also used in bird catching

Plant life at Hōkūnui Farms begins at Kapūʻao (the womb) Plant Nursery, which nurtures about 30 different native and canoe plant species before they are planted in the ground. Hōkūnui also works with native plant experts in our community to source plant material and learn from their expertise.


Hawaiians have many names for sky conditions and cloud formations. Some of these names are specific to certain areas, and many are quite descriptive, illustrating their deep connection to physical surroundings and natural processes. The

Piʻiholo area is famous in chant and song for these clouds, rains and winds:
ʻUlalena – a reddish-yellow cloud bank of rain illuminated by the rising or setting sun
ʻŪkiukiu – the cold, biting rain that comes in from the north
ʻŪkiu – a cloud bank that moves in from the north
Kiu – The cold northeast trade wind that brings the ʻŪkiu clouds and ʻŪkiukiu rain
Kiumoenāhele – a strong wind that flattens the forest, or wind that lies in the forest

Lei moani ʻula ka ua i ka lāʻau
The rain forms a fragrant red wreath in the forest
Aweawe lena i ke kukui o Lili
With yellow tendrils reaching the kukui trees of Lili
I ka waluhia e ka ua ʻUlalena
The rasping of the ʻUlalena rain
Meheu ka piko o ke koa i Haʻikū ē i laila
Leaves its traces upon the center of Haʻikūʻs Koa grove, there…
—Ko Hawaii Ponoi, 18 June 1873

Find out more about this awesome project here: Hokunui.com/Forestry
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