Hawaiian Wood

In the end of Iolani Palace’s grand hall is a staircase made of koa wood. The polished staircase’s hues include a mixture of golden brown and medium brown, and its polished surface reflects the surrounding lights.

The koa wood signified Hawaiian royalty. The Alii (royalty) used items made of koa wood: canoes, paddles containers, surfboards, and spears. In late 1800s and early 1900s, koa, or the “Hawaiian Mahogany,” was used to create ukulele, furniture, staircases, and other woodwork for upper class and government buildings.

Along with koa, other native Hawaiian tree species included ohia, sandalwood, kukui, kopiko, kolea, and pua. Their forests covered a large part of the Hawaiian islands.

Native Hawaiian wood was a popular export. In the early 1800s, lumber mills started appearing around the Hawaiians islands and exported the fragrant sandalwood, the first major export of Hawaii. Later, the koa wood was exported. The “Hawaiian mahogany” was prized for its durability and hues.

However, while Hawaii’s wood industry didn’t have significant issues selling its wood, the federal government accused the industry of developing a trust in 1905. A trust is when companies work together to prevent competition and to keep the prices artificially high.

In terms of the wood’s source, overharvesting, invasive species, and other human activities (e.g. farming) would destroy the forests in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Cattles trampled on young trees. Hilo grass choked them out. Insects attacked their leaves. Borers ate through the wood. Wild pigs, goats, and deer were also destroying the native trees. Fires burned the forests.

In response to the destruction, the Hawaii government created forest reserves. U.S. Congress established the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in 1916, preserving the forests around the Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes.

– Alice Kim

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Keywords: Hawaiian mahogany (with the phrase), koa wood, kukui wood, lumber (state: Hawaii), ohia, Pahoa Lumber

Articles from Chronicling America

“Indigenous Hawaiian Woods”
The Hawaiian gazette, July 14, 1891, Image 1

“Laudable Revival of Forest Culture: Valuable Tree Seeds Are Brought from Hawaii”
Evening bulletin, August 21, 1900, Image 1

“To Replace Native Koa: Australian Blackwood to Be Substituted”
The Hawaiian star, October 12, 1901, Image 1

“Prof. A. Koebele Returns from Maui: Government Entomologist Investigate Recent Complaints”
Evening bulletin, October 14, 1901, Image 1

“Expert Griffith on Forest Preservation”
Evening bulletin, February 14, 1902, Page 3

“Shipping Koa: Wood in Great Demand for Manufacturing Furniture”
Hilo tribune, July 25, 1902, Image 2

“Hawaiian Woods: Fine Collection Is Being Assembled”
Evening bulletin, December 16, 1902, Image 1

“Forests Based on Recent Observations”
The Hawaiian gazette, January 19, 1904, Page 8

“Useful and Beautiful Forests of the Hawaiian Islands”
Barbour County index, August 17, 1904, Image 7

“Hamakua Forest: Reserve Recommended to Governor Carter”
The Hawaiian gazette, December 2, 1904, Page 2

“The Board of Agriculture: An Important Meeting of the Farm Experts”
The Hawaiian gazette, December 16, 1904, Page 5

“Want Hawaiian Woods”
The Maui news, January 21, 1905, Image 3

“Hawaii’s Dual Police” (Hawaiian Wood Used Exclusively in Government Buildings)
The Pacific commercial advertiser, September 11, 1905, Page 6

“A Lumber Trust Alleged Now: Lumber Dealers Arraigned”
The Hawaiian star, October 19, 1905, SECOND EDITION, Image 1

“Across the Lava Beds: Kona’s Rich Resources — Many Rare Trees Flourish”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, July 9, 1906, Image 1

“Ninety Million Feet of Ohia Contracted For”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, October 9, 1907, Image 1

“Many Matters of Interest”
The Hawaiian gazette, November 1, 1907, Page 6

“Varied Output of Hawaii’s Forest”
The Hawaiian gazette, June 16, 1908, Page 3

“The Koa Bark Is to Be Utilized”
The Maui news, August 15, 1908, Page 2

“The Tie Mill Is Puna’s Pride”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, September 9, 1908, SECOND SECTION, Image 9

“Agriculture and Forestry”
The Hawaiian star, July 8, 1909, SECOND EDITION, Page 7

“Hawaii’s Famous Melons May Once More Flourish”
The Hawaiian gazette, July 9, 1909, Image 6

“Japan to Take Hawaiian Koa”
Evening bulletin, March 3, 1910, 3:30 EDITION, Page 5

“The Closer Utilization of Ohia Lumber”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, April 17, 1910, Sunday Edition, Feature Section, Page 3

“Big Trees in Kilauea Park”
The Hawaiian star, August 2, 1911, Page 7

“Inter-Island Happenings”
The Hawaiian star, August 5, 1911, Page 16

“Kukui Lumber a Possible New Industry”
The Hawaiian gazette, December 23, 1913, Page 4

“Pioneer Mill Does Helpful Work in All Lahaina District”
Honolulu star-bulletin, November 18, 1916, 2:30 Edition, Maui County Fair, Page 10