Known to plant geeks as Marsilea villosa, is a beautiful little water fern that looks like a four-leaf clover. Indeed, one must be lucky to catch a glimpse of this endangered species as it only occurs on Oʻahu and Molokai (it is no longer seen on Niʻihau and not known from the other islands). The fact that it grows and reproduces in pools formed by seasonal flooding adds to its elusive beauty. Weedy grasses, feral animals, coastal development, and off- road vehicles have all contributed to the habitat destruction that limits the places now available for this species to thrive in. One locality where it occurs in abundance today is known by its same name and was acknowledged in chant by Hiʻiaka during one of her visits to Oʻahu. As she and her entourage neared Hanauma on their canoe, they called out to the natives of this area for food. Being a dry and arid place, the natives replied that they had no food and were continually searching for the small leaf ʻihiʻihi and the water it floats in. This reply, given with aloha, was enough sustenance for the time and Hiʻiaka and her companions sailed on. It must have been a dry spell during her visit, as when there is ample rainfall, this plant (with its ability to reproduce both vegetatively and by spores) grows in dense bright green mats. In her chant, Hiʻiaka also acknowledged the water of Kanonoʻula , a place near ʻIhiʻihilauākea. Ka ʻihiʻihi kaukolo i ka wai o Kanonoʻula - The ʻihiʻihi that creeps along in search of the water of Kanonoʻula.
The name ʻiliahi identifies four species found only in Hawaiʻi: Santalum paniculatum (Hawaiʻi), S. haleakalae (Maui), S. freycinetianum (Oʻahu, Molokai, and varieties on Lānaʻi and Kauaʻi), and S. ellipticum (all main islands and Kauō, a.k.a. Laysan). The deeply fragrant heartwood of some of these species was used by Hawaiians to scent kapa cloth, make medicine, and sometimes to construct a musical instrument called ʻūkēkē. In the late 18th and early 19th century, this lāʻau ʻala (fragrant wood) was highly desired by the Chinese and became a major commodity. The story of the sandalwood trade in Hawaiʻi is famous for its impacts on the people and the forests. Kamehameha I placed a kapu on the cutting of young trees and had a desire to manage the resource for the coming generations. However, large debts accumulated in his and other chiefsʻ dealings with American traders who knowingly inflated the prices of items for which pay in sandalwood was promised. The first flag representing the Hawaiian Islands was created for the vessel carrying the very first shipment of sandalwood to Canton. Kamehameha knew this would signal to other ships in port that his kingdom was involved in trading. During the reign of Kamehameha II, increasing debt in combination with a lifting of the kapu mentioned earlier resulted in a near wholesale loss of sandalwood forests. Today, ʻiliahi species face formidable challenges to survival: their dryforest homes (excluding S. paniculatum, a wet forest species) are extremely rare habitats and rats are quick to scarf up their big delectable fruits. Still, biologists and others committed to seeing these species flourish once again continue to propagate them and try to protect the areas where wild individuals still exist. Kō ʻili waianuhea i ka wai ʻula ʻiliahi - Your skin made cool and fragrant by the wai ʻula ʻiliahi (a famous water of Waimea, Kauaʻi).