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Hula Plant Photos of the Day: Palapalai

April 3, 2013
Palapalai closeup

Closeup of a lacy palapalai frond. Photo courtesy of Sierra McDaniel.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Merrie Monarch Festival, today’s hula plant of the day is palapalai (Microlepia strigosa), an indigenous fern that serves as one of the primary components in lei for the head, wrists, and ankles worn by hula dancers.

The park protects these delicate and lacy, light-colored ferns – especially in the Special Ecological Area of Kīpuka Kī and Kīpukapuaulu, off Mauna Loa Road.  In addition to being an important hula plant, it also plays an important role in the ecosystem blanketing the forest floor.

Palapalai island
Palapalai in in the Special Ecological Area of Kīpuka Kī . NPS Photo/Jessica Ferracane

The abundance of palapalai in the park was reduced by a severe drought several years ago. Park managers are closely monitoring the population for signs of recovery.  However, it is easily cultivated and often found in shady gardens, especially on the east side of Hawai‘i Island.

Palapalai are usually one to three feet tall, and are found in rain forests above 1,500 feet, and in upper-elevation moist forests in Hawai‘i. They are also native to India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, and islands in the South Pacific. (Source: Stone & Pratt’s  Hawai‘i’s Plants and Animals Biological Sketches of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, 2nd edition, 2002).

Please visit the Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association park stores for an array of books and other merchandise celebrating Hawaiian culture.

palapalai spores

Soft white “hairs” grow on the undersides, and small round spores are seen in this picture, courtesy of Sierra McDaniel

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  1. Hula Plant Photos of the Day: Palapalai. Reblogged from The National Parks of the Pacific Ocean | Maui Canoe Club

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