Carol Cloud Bailey
METROSIDEROS collina 'Springfire'
Plant Common Name
'Ohi'a Lehua, Springfire Ohi'a, Vunga
A shrubby ohi'a, 'Springfire' bears spectacular clusters of fiery red pompon-like flowers atop attractive, rounded plants. Though considered compact relative to standard ohi'a, it still becomes a sizable, upright shrub when mature.
Behold one of the Hawaiian Islands' most magnificent native plants! Ohi'a is a highly variable broadleaf evergreen. Its habit varies depending on the environment; in arid mountainous habitats it grows as a low, prostrate shrub but in lush volcanic tropical rainforests is becomes a large, upright, rounded tree. The valuable wood of ohi'a was traditionally held sacred by the Hawaiian people and used to carve images of war gods and temple icons. Today, its bright red flowers are made into leis. Ohi'a is native to many central and southwestern Pacific Islands.
The evergreen leaves of ohi'a are oval-shaped, leathery and gray-green with contrasting yellow veins and leaf petioles (stems). When they first emerge they have a felty, silvery-gray covering. Plants can bloom as often as three times a year, producing the lushest flowering displays in midsummer and in winter. Felted white buds occur in dense clusters on the branch tips and open to reveal long, whisker-like stamens of scarlet. The blooms produce rich nectar vital for Hawaii's native honeycreeper birds. There are eight naturally-occurring varieties of ohi'a across Hawaii, which produce yellow, orange, salmon or pink flowers. Leathery capsules filled with tiny seeds follow pollination. The trees' rugged-looking trunk is covered in dark sooty gray bark that forms cracks or scaly plates. When young, the tree's bark is smooth and lighter gray.
Grow ohi'a in sunny, frost-free gardens with fertile loam on the acid side. Its growth rate is fairly slow, but it will grow a bit faster if provided supplemental magnesium. This tough tropical is tolerant of heat, drought and salt spray, even surviving on volcanic slopes where noxious gases escape from the ground. Plant ohi'a as a seaside specimen shrub or garden tree. It may also be grown in a large planter or trained as bonsai.
This species has become vulnerable in its native habitats as development expands and exotic plant species invade, so refrain from harvesting wild plants.