Guests will spot the hala tree commonly at Waikoloa Beach Resort, where it was specifically planted to draw attention to its significance in the Hawaiian culture. Along Waikoloa Beach Drive near Waikoloa Bowl, for example, some magnificent hala trees are seen, and inside Waikoloa Bowl itself others stand in healthy splendor. At the Kings’ Golf Course, a large hala tree dominates the entranceway to the clubhouse and several are seen on the first and 18th holes of the Kings’ Course.
The trees can grow as high as 20 – 30 feet, and are easily identified by the tangled roots that shoot upward out of the ground. Found throughout the Pacific, it is speculated that the tree found its own way to the Hawaiian Islands, as the seeds float. The fronds have long, spinyedged leaves, and the female tree produces a pineapple-looking fruit.
The hala tree was very important to the old Hawaiians, with every part of it used in some fashion. The fruit was eaten, used for medicinal purposes, added as decorative lei adornment, and dried segments were used as a brush to paint on tapa. The wood of the tree was used as building support material and calabashes.
The woven leaves, lau, were used for many practical purposes, including canoe sails, wall thatching, roofing material, and floor mats. Guests can stand under the canopy of a tree today and see what an effective shelter the leaves make from the elements.
In plantation days, lauhala crafters made hats to shield workers from the sun, and baskets in which to carry coffee cherries and other crops. Every family had its weavers, and each weaver had a signature style. The knowledge and technique was passed from generation to generation, and the keiki would often start learning at an early age. But as trade with the Western world picked up and new materials and goods such as leather and cloth were introduced to the islands, by the middle part of the 20th century, the art of lauhala plaiting — as were other important cultural traditions in Hawai`i such as hula and even the Hawaiian language — was dying out.