Grounded in Culture

The culture of ancient Hawai‘i was deeply rooted in nature. It still is — thanks to places like Maui Nui Botanical Gardens.

1953

Hawaiian poppyPUA KALA

Argemone glauca, Hawaiian poppy

The harsh, coastal lava fields of Hawai‘i bake in the sun. The edges of the lava can be sharp enough to cut. In the summer, heat ripples over the rocks. Yet here and there the vivid white flower face of the pua kala bobs from the top of a spiky blue-green stalk, cheerful and defiant in an unforgiving and desolate environment. Pua kala means “prickly flower,” and it is one of the few native plants with defenses. Nick the plant (without sticking yourself with the prickles) and you’ll find the bright yellow sap that Hawaiians used to treat toothaches, ulcers and nerve pain, thanks to the opiates found in poppies worldwide. In the Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipo, every life form on the land had a twin in the ocean, and for pua kala, that twin was the spiky seaweed limu kala. Both plants were woven into ho‘oponopono (forgiveness and release) ceremonies, which, when you think about it, is another way of easing pain.

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