Of all of the natural wonders it’s possible to experience in Hawaii, the rainbow eucalyptus may represent one of the most striking. These magical trees, which periodically also produce small white flowers, feature multicolored bark vibrant and unusual enough to make you think you’ve stepped into a fairy tale.
A Tree of Many Colors
With a lifespan of 50 to 100 years, this extraordinary tree is the only eucalyptus indigenous to the northern hemisphere. Also referred to as the Mindanao gum or rainbow gum, it was originally found only in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, but now finds a home on each of the four major Hawaiian Islands.
The rainbow eucalyptus is of course most revered for its streaked, colorful bark, a phenomenon that occurs as the tree sheds its brown outer layer, revealing bright green layers beneath. This fresh wood slowly transforms from dark green to blue, then to purple, orange, and reddish tones before transitioning back to brown and shedding again, starting the process anew. With different areas of the tree in different phases of the cycle at any given time, the trunks are consistently painted in a myriad of intense hues.
History in Hawaii
The first rainbow eucalyptus specimens introduced to Hawaii, planted in the Wahiawa Botanical Garden on Oahu as part of a reforestation movement, arrived from the Philippines in 1929. Although the exact explanation for their arrival on other islands is less clear, some may have been planted to help control soil erosion.
In other parts of the world, this fast-growing giant (which may reach 100 to over 200 feet in height with a diameter of six feet in its native surroundings) serves as a source of pulp for paper, or as a hardwood for furniture-making. In the Hawaiian Islands, the rainbow eucalyptus acts primarily as an ornamental shade tree, standing out even amidst all the beauty surrounding it.
Photo credit: kenlund on Flickr
Maui’s Hana Highway
The Hana Highway, a coastal road connecting the Paia area with the remote east Maui town of Hana, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. This curvy route follows a series of switchbacks with views of sea cliffs, waterfalls, rainforests, and bamboo groves. Clusters of rainbow eucalyptus also dot this otherwordly landscape, most notably just before mile marker seven on the left side of the road, where it’s worth your time to park the car and walk out for a visit. Soon after mile marker 16, it’s also possible to see the trees within the Keanae Arboretum.
If you happen to spend your vacation on the lush north shore of Kauai, you can easily access a cluster of rainbow eucalyptus along the Princeville walking/jogging path, a two-mile stretch (which will eventually be fully paved) from the Princeville Center to the St. Regis Princeville Resort. This fairly flat path runs along Ka Haku Road, with shady spots and lovely views of the ocean and the Makai Golf Course along the way.
The Keahua Arboretum in Wailua, on Kauai’s east coast, provides another opportunity to see these unique trees. Just after the spillway at the arboretum entrance, a rainbow eucalyptus grove on the left offers ideal surroundings for a picnic or a hike.
Oahu and the Big Island
To this day, a stop at Wahiawa Botanical Garden on the route between Honolulu and Oahu’s North Shore gives nature lovers a chance to marvel at the rainbow eucalyptus. The magnificent trees also line the driveway at Dole Plantation and can be spotted at the Honolulu Zoo. Although perhaps less common on the Big Island, they can most easily be viewed by booking a Kona Cloud Forest guided walking tour.