Of all of the pristine natural allure persisting among Hawaii’s hundreds of islands, Maui contains one of the most breathtaking features. The famous Hana highway boasts a magical rainbow eucalyptus forest — trees with multicolored bark so unimaginable they are mistaken for pictures cut out of a fairy tale.
The Tree of Many Colors
Eucalyptus deglupta is the scientific name for the revered rainbow eucalyptus tree, also referred to as the Mindanao gum or rainbow gum. It is the only eucalyptus tree found in the northern hemisphere. Originally native to the Philippines, these trees now thrive in regions of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Britain, and Hawaii. The rainbow eucalyptus is most renowned for its streaked, colorful bark often simultaneously containing every hue on the spectrum. The visual phenomenon is created when the tree sheds its brown outer bark, revealing bright green layers beneath. This fresh wood slowly transforms from dark green to blue, then to purple and to red until transitioning back to brown and shedding again, starting the process anew. With different areas of the tree being in different points of the shedding cycle at any given time, rainbow eucalyptus trees are consistently painted in a myriad of intense colorful streaks, making for an unreal visual mural. Although there is limited scientific study behind the color-changing process, it is theorized that each bark layer contains a clear overlay that darkens as tannins accumulate and chlorophyll depletes, attributing to the maintained intensity of color throughout the morphing process.
History in Hawaii
Rainbow eucalyptus trees only thrive in warm, tropical climates that receive lots of rainfall. Like many plant species on the island of Maui, the rainbow eucalyptus tree was introduced from the Philippines. The first specimens were planted in 1929 in the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens as part of a dedicated reforestation effort and those specifically planted in Hana were thought to help control soil erosion. Around the world the rainbow eucalyptus is coveted for its ornamental landscaping purposes and value in the paper industry, as it is commonly harvested for pulpwood. On the island of Maui, however, the rainbow eucalyptus forest serves predominantly as a beacon of natural beauty and spectacular vacation highlight.
The Hana Highway
The Hana Highway is a historic landmark of its own accord — a coastal road teeming with life connecting Kahului with the town of Hāna. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. The road serves a tourist attraction, taking sightseers along a curvy expanse of rainforest boasting waterfalls, ocean views, and of course — the revered rainbow eucalyptus trees. In their native environment these trees can grow to more than 250ft in height and although in Hawaii they only reach an average of 100ft, combined with alluring rainbow features they are surely one of the most impressive specimens in the world. The popular rainbow eucalyptus forest is located on the left side of the Hana Highway directly before Mile Marker 7 routing from Paia. Whether passing through or incorporating a detour — these magnificent trees are worth stopping for.