1. n. Same as palai, a fern.
2. A Niʻihau name for niʻaniʻau and kupukupu.
3. Niʻihau name for gold fern, Pityrogramma calomelanos (syn. P. chrysophylla). (Neal 20.)
While I did say that palaʻā is one of my favorite ferns, palapalai is the most endearing to me. Palapalai reminds me of Kuaokalā, accessed through the Kaʻena Point Satellite Tracking Station, on the Waiʻanae mountain range. I first went here with my hālau and kumu hula, Mililani Allen, to pick fronds for a hula performance. First sight and I was in love. A romantic affair with a fern ensued. My next encounter was up on Kaʻala, Oʻahu’s highest peak. Fronds longer than my legs. And so green. And feminine, if that is possible. Nothing more beautiful. And now I live just a few miles from a certain area that is uluwehiwehi (lush/verdant) with palapalai. Sorry. Can’t tell you the secret spot lest the nation come and raid. And not everyone knows how to properly gather palapalai. But that is another momi to share with all of you. Long story there.
Palapalai, like palaʻā, is important in hula. Sacred to Laka, goddess of hula, palapalai is used in lei and as an offering on the hula altar. In this year’s Merrie Monarch, many of the dancers performing will most likely be adorned with palapalai as hālau restrict their use of lehua this year due to Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death.
The photo below is a small palapalai grove that has popped up on the side of a stream bed down the road from my home. It didn’t exist 20 years ago. So refreshing to know that there are areas in our islands where native foliage can just “pop” up rather than being cleared for construction. I suspect it happened as a result of a heavy rainfall that caused this particular stream to flow high and hard, eroding the ʻāina, perfect conditions for fern growth.