`Ola`a Forest

The `Ola`a Forest is separated from the main area of the park. It is a 9,000 acre parcel of relatively undisturbed rain forest.

The deep ash soils and abundant rainfall make this a lush place to visit.  This is not a well-developed tourist attraction.  It is wet and muddy.  Most likely, you will not venture but a few yards into this area.  Such a short incursion is well worth the effort, however.  You'll see a forest dominated by `ohi`a canopy and a tree-fern understorey.

Getting There


Highway 11 run from Hilo up through the Park and beyond. Just before you get to the park, you travel near the small community of Volcano. You will get to the `Ola`a forest by turning north at Wright Road (Hwy 148) and traveling along a two-lane road for 2 miles.  You will recognize your arrival at the south-west corner of `Ola`a forest when you arrive at the Park sign.
Go 0.6 miles further to the left bend in the road.  The left side of the road is an open pasture.  There is a dense forest on the right through this extent.  Park on the right, at the end of the forest just where it turns into pasture.  You will see the wire fence that encloses `Ola`a Forest near the road.  You should start at this south-west corner.

Examining the Plants Just Outside the Boundary Fence

South-west corner of the `ola`a section This is the south-west corner of the `ola`a area of the park. You can see the fence that protects against the entry of grazing animals.  You need to get over this fence to gain entry.  If you do so, be careful to not climb on the fence. There are places where you can step across if you look carefully.

There are several native plants of interest just outside fence along the highway.

Pisonia brunoniana (Hawaiian: Papala Kepau) is a common understory tree several places in the park.

You can recognize this species here by is large green leaves and pinkish petioles and veins.


Pisonia brunoniana
The ripe capsules that develop from the flowers are covered with a very sticky substance that was used as a glue by the Hawaiians. The glue is strong enough to capture birds and was used to do just that. Pisonia brunoniana
There is also a Hawaiian Raspberry (Rubus hawaiensis; Hawaiian: `Akala) just outside the fence.

Look for generally smooth upright stems.


Rubus hawaiensis

Rubus hawaiensis
A little further away from the corner of the fenced area is Clermontia parvifolia (??? - check on this!!).

Look for the flowers (shown here in the lower-left corner of the picture).


Entering the Fenced Area

If you enter the fenced area (note the need to be careful crossing the fence without damaging it), walk to the left toward the corner of the fenced area.  This is just a few yards away.  Turn to the right along the fence line and go a few yard until you get to a trail that enters the forest.  You only need to go along this trail a short distance (50 yards or so) to get an appreciation of the general characteristics of this rainforest area.

Off to the sides of the trail you can see the dense understory dominated by the tree fern Cibotium glaucum (Hawaiian: hapu`u pulu).  There are two other tree-fern species in the `ola`a area, but this one is the most common. One way you can recognize it is by the orange hairs that are found along the base of the fronds.

The tree ferns capture much of the light and effectively suppress the growth of the understory vegetation.

The picture below on the right shows Mike Huddleston standing on the trail next to an `ohi`a that is growing up through the tree ferns.

Olaa understory
Olaa understory Tree ferns and ohia
Many plant species grow epiphytically on the tree ferns.  Sometimes this is necessary to get them up off the forest floor where they would otherwise become a meal for an alien herbivore like a pig.  In addition, the fern provides a good source of moisture for the developing seedlings. Litter and growth on a log

This wet environment is also home to a number of moisture-loving species. You may not see these by casual inspection or without a trip deeper into the forest's recesses.  Such a trip may be well-rewarded if you find some of the species that are less-often seen but which are important to an understanding of biological diversity.

Liverwort liverwort
Hornwort hornwort

Other forest plants include species that are related to those in other habitats.

Vaccinium calycinum (Hawaiian: `ohelo kau la`au or tree `ohelo) Vaccinium calycinum
The fruits are a key to spotting this species.  Remember that the Vaccinium fruits have the remains of the flower (calyx) at the end, keeping this from being an entirely smooth sphere. Vaccinium calycinum

Field-Trip Questions


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Last Updated: 01/22/00

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