'Oha wai

Clermontia pyrularia
Clermontia pyrularia

Clermontia pyrularia is an endangered lobeliad that reaches a height of 9.8-13 ft. The toothed leaf blades are narrow and elliptical. The blades are attached to winged petioles, or stalks. Each flower is suspended by a flower stalk and attached to a cluster of 2-5 flowers. The species name is derived from pyrus (pear) because of its orange, pear-shaped berries. 

Currently, C. pyrularia is found between 5,900-6,240 ft on the Hawai’i Island, although it is able to survive at elevations as low as 3,000 ft and as high as 7,000 ft. It occurs in montane wet and mesic ‘ōhi’a and koa forests in North Hilo at Laupāhoehoe and Pīhā, the State land adjacent to the Hakalau Forest Unit. It was found that although C. pyrularia seeds will grow slowly at 3,800 ft, this species grows best between 6,000-6,400 ft. Seeds of this species will not germinate below 2,000 ft. Subalpine dry forests dominated by ‘ōhi’a can also provide suitable habitat. One individual from the population at Pīhā died from unknown causes in 1995; however, an additional 14 individuals were found in the area by 2001. Using seeds from these plants, the Refuge experimentally outplanted 30 C. pyrularia seedlings in two exclosures at HFU in 1990 and 1992. By 2001, 12 individuals at 7 sites were still living. To date a total of 846 C. pyrularia have been outplanted within the Refuge.  

Nonnative vegetation has contributed to population declines of C. pyrularia in suitable habitat. For example, banana poka, which forms a dense curtain that shades out seedlings, is negatively impacting C. pyrularia in some areas. Pigs have been observed dispersing the fruits of banana poka and can also trample native flora. Ongoing other threats include rats, invertebrates, humans, and small disjunct populations with limited opportunities for pollination.  

Facts About 'Oha wai

Early Hawaiian Use

Early Hawaiians used ʻōhā wai (Clermontia spp.) as a minor food source. The leaves were boiled before eating and the berries were eaten fresh and said to have a sweet taste.