A native shrub growing up to 9 feet tall. Like mamaki (another member of the nettle family), olonā does not have stinging hairs. The leaves vary greatly in size and shape, depending on the local conditions. In general, the oppositely arranged leaves are serrated, green in color, and have distinct veins. Prominent stipules are 2 to 3 inches long. Flowers are either male or female. The fruit looks like a mulberry.
Olonā is the only endemic nonfood crop Hawaiians farmed; plantations could be up to 2 acres. Olonā was used whenever a strong rope was required. A lot of time and preparation went into processing the rope. After harvesting, the bark was stripped, left to dry for a few days, then soaked in the river for a few days, then shredded into piles of loose fibers. After that, the fibers were sorted by size and bleached in the sun. Finally, they were made into outstanding ropes, many times stronger than hemp.
These ropes of various sizes were a commodity in the old days. Taxes were paid with rope, and Hawaiians traded with foreign sailors for other goods. Dr. Ellis of Captain Cooks’s crew documented an olonā rope that was 100 feet long! Fishing nets were woven from fine pieces of olonā string. Kahili were made using fine olonā thread. A thicker rope was used to attach adz and dagger handles and for certain weapons.
Until the advent of synthetic rope, olonā was the best fiber for mountain climbing ropes. Along with a small diameter, it had just the right strength and elasticity.
Native butterflies are attracted to this plant — propagation by seed, root shoot, rooted branches, cutting, or other vegetative propagation methods.
- Cultural significance
- Privacy / screening
- No dangers