Acacia koa
Acacia Koa - 520x390

Koa was one of the most valuable tree in Hawaii

The generic name Acacia is derived from the Greek, akakia, the name for Acacia arabica, ultimately from akis or ake, a Greek word meaning a sharp point and referring to the thorns of this particular plant.  Koa are dominant trees in Hawaiian forests and provide suitable habitat for many native species birds.  The aptly named Koa-finches (now extinct), Rhodacanthis palmeri and R. flaviceps, fed almost exclusively on green koa seed pods, sometimes the entire pod in pieces or occasionally only the seeds.  Koa resembles koaiʻa, but Koa is larger in height and leaf length and width. Koa is the largest native tree in the archipelago, reaching 50-80 ft in height. Mature trees, which can live for over 100 years, have a diameter often measuring more than 3.27 ft. While koa seedlings have true leaves, mature koa trees only have phyllodes, or expanded petioles. At Hakalau, koa trees flower December – February. Koa flowers are primarily insect-pollinated, but birds and wind are possible pollinators.

Koa is considered a pioneer species during secondary succession due to its ability to quickly regenerate on a disturbed site. Ecosystem disturbances, such as fire and soil removal, can stimulate koa seeds to germinate. Koa is also able to regenerate from buried seed, root sprouts, or root suckering. An additional characteristic of pioneer species is fast growth. During the first 5 years, koa can grow at rates of 5 ft per year.

Koa wood was used in constructing houses (hale), spears, tools, paddles (hoe), kahili handles, calabashes (ʻumeke lāʻau), ceremonial poles (hulumanu), religious ceremonies, and short surfboards.  While there were many uses for koa, it was never used for eating receptacles because the resin, which could not be removed, would leave a bad taste to foods.  Today, koa is propagated and planted in forest restoration projects and/or used as shade trees in home gardens.  The wood is still very much prized in wood craft and is high in demand, being one of the most expensive woods in the world.  Koa is also a tonewood and used in modern musical instruments such as ʻukulele, acoustic guitars, some electric guitars, and Weissenborn-style Hawaiian steel or lap guitars.

Facts About Koa

Hawaiian Language 

Koa in the Hawaiian language - Bold, Fearless, Warrior.


On the Refuge

Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge staff have propagated Koa from seed and outplanted the species for several decades as part of their comprehensive conservation plan to restore habitat for native forest birds. 


Family and genus  


Koa belongs to the third largest plant family, the Pea or Legume family (Fabaceae). There are two endemic species of Acacia in the Hawaiian Islands: Acacia koa and A. koaia.