Pala‘ā is an indigenous Hawaiian fern, most commonly seen on trails around the state. Its delicate features have given it the nickname lace fern. It likes to grow in disturbed sites, so it is one of the first native plants to establish itself along sides of trails and on landslides in native areas. While this native plant still flourishes in Hawai’i, protection and propagation of this fern is encouraged because of its unique features and importance to Hawaiian culture.
Pala‘ā means brownish-red, the name of the dye color extracted from this fern. The dye was used in the production of kappa (bark cloth).
The leaves were also used medicinally. Their curative powers were derived from the legend of Hi’iaka, the sister of Pele. Hi’iaka wore Pala‘ā around her waist when she went on a journey for her sister Pele. Prepared as a tea, it was used to treat female ailments.
The most common usage was probably for lei making, as it is still today. A traditional type of Pala‘ā lei was made by braiding or plaiting the fronds together into a garland. This method was known as the hili or hilo method. Pala’s remains a desired fern for lei of all kinds, including lei haku.