The Green Leaf

A tree for every dancer

May 28th, 2014
Merrie Monarch Festival director Auntie Luana Kawelu planting a koa tree at Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, Hamakua Coast, Big Island. Photo courtesy Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods.

Merrie Monarch Festival director Auntie Luana Kawelu planting a koa tree at Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, Hamakua Coast, Big Island. Photo courtesy Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods.

It's a beautiful concept. Plant a tree, honor someone.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, a certified B Corp Best for the Environment, announced in early May a new milestone — the planting of its 250,000th native koa tree on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Its goal is to plant 1.3 million trees as part of a reforestation initiative.

What would be more appropriate than to plant a koa tree for every dancer participating in the Merrie Monarch Festival? Hula, after all, is about a connection to nature, with mele celebrating the beauty of every isle, valley, mountain, forest, inlet, rain, breeze, fern and flower. KFVE initiated this legacy last April in a tribute to the Merrie Monarch's 50th year, sponsoring the planting of 555 koa trees in honor of every dancer at the festival last year.

This April, 580 legacy trees were planted, one for every dancer that competed.

KFVE General Manager John Fink says the plan is to sponsor every hula dancer participating in the festival in future years.

Pulelehua on Lehua[1]NathanYuen

In just four years, more than 650 acres of former pastureland have been reclaimed as native forest.

Besides koa, HLH is now offering the planting of other indigenous species of trees and understory including the ‘ohi‘a (see the beautiful lehua blossom, left, by nature photographer Nathan Yuen,, mamane, naio, ko‘oko‘olau, kukaenene and both varieties of ‘iliahi (Hawaiian sandalwood).

"We are seeing the return of the koa forest and along with it, the endangered birds which historically occupied these lands — it's remarkable how fast it is happening," said CEO Jeff Dunster. What's more, this Legacy Forest is creating dozens of permanent green jobs, reducing the effects of global warming and most importantly, doing it in a way that honors the legacy of Hawaiian culture."

The forest's historic site was once the personal koa forest of King Kamehameha the Great, the first king of Hawaii, but was cleared nearly a century ago to make room for farming and ranching. But some of the old growth koa trees can still be found on site.

"The simple act of sponsoring a Legacy Tree, by countless individuals, has transformed this mountain," said Dunster. "Each tree has a story to tell. Each one was planted and sponsored as a living legacy to honor an individual, memorialize a loved one or to commemorate an event. This forest really belongs to them."

Sponsorship of a koa tree is $60, with $20 of it going to a non-profit group of your choice (Legacy has partnered with more than 100, from AccessSurf to Waimanalo Health Center). Also, $1 from every tree purchased goes to the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. Sponsorship of a sandalwood tree is $100. You receive a certificate of ownership which gives you the GPS coordinates of your tree, according to its RFID tag, which you can find via Google Earth. The sponsored trees are never harvested.

To sponsor a tree, visit or call 1-877-707-TREE.

Below, certificate I received for sponsoring a tree in honor of "Uncle George and Auntie Dottie" last year (out of my own pocket). Think I will sponsor one for my 3-year-old son, too (we planted a koa in our yard when he was born):


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