A telltale sign that summer has arrive, in addition to mangoes and lychee, is the sweet taste of ʻōhiʻa ʻai, or mountain apples. The ʻōhiʻa ʻai is found on many islands in the Pacific and its fruit is enjoyed by many. Introduced to the islands by Polynesian settlers, it is also known as the fekika in Tonga and kavika in Fiji. In traditional times, Hawaiians would split the fruit and dry them in the sun. Though not sweet as the apples we are used to (think apple pie), it is refreshing, with a nice crunch.
Its name bears the same beginning as that of the lehua tree – ʻōhiʻa lehua. ʻŌhiʻa ʻai means “edible ʻōhiʻa”. Clever, don’t you think? Not that you can’t eat parts of the ʻōhiʻa lehua (medicinal uses abound). The two trees, ʻōhiʻa ʻai and ʻōhiʻa lehua are related. There is another ʻōhiʻa, known as ʻōhiʻa hā, totally different from the other two but it, too is related.
I find it quite remarkable that Hawaiians, in all their wisdom, were able to discern similarities and differences in the flora and fauna of the islands and name plants that were related by similar names. The three ʻōhiʻa plants are all of the Eugenia species.
ʻŌhiʻa noho malu – mountain apple in the shade (said of a beautiful or handsome person, who is compared to a mountain apple that ripens to perfection in the shade).