Halekulani’s Beloved Kiawe Tree Celebrates 133 Years of Life

It is no secret that the Kiawe tree is an important part of Halekulani’s legacy. This 133-year-old tree has witnessed the hotel’s evolution since 1887, when 3-year-old Florence Hall planted a small, thorn less kiawe sapling on the lawn of what is now House Without A Key. As the Kiawe tree grew over the next century, it witnessed various historical events such as two World Wars, the emergence of esteemed cultural institutions such as the Bishop Museum and Honolulu Museum of Art, as well as tourism booms.

As the Kiawe tree grew and evolved, it soon became a significant icon of the hotel. Various photographers such as Wayne Levin visited the notable tree to capture its beauty, and a host of Hula practitioners, including legendary hula dancer Kanoe Miller, have performed under the natural canopy of the Kiawe’s long and slender branches while being accompanied by local musicians. The allure and beauty of the Kiawe tree also inspired resident author Earl Derr Biggers, whose Charlie Chan novel, House Without A Key, was written under the branches of the tree as Biggers conversed with the Honolulu Chief of Police. This novel became a hit and led to a series of mystery books and movies thereafter.

The Kiawe tree continued to be the center of House Without A Key for many years. On August 20, 2016, the Kiawe tree stood tall and magnificent, a truly special background for performers at House Without A Key. The following day, in the early morning hours, the Kiawe tree fell. In keeping with the strength shown over a century the large tree went down quietly, with no fanfare and nobody watching. Though the tree falling was a devastating loss for both staff and guests, the Halekulani team knew something special should be done to preserve the beloved icon’s history and reached out to local artist and sculptor John Koga.

Through his work with many local artists, Koga was known to the Hotel as someone that could show kindness and care while working with the tree. The Halekulani team was confident that John was the perfect collaborator, as he could properly dismantle the Kiawe tree’s tremendous branches and turn it into something beautiful. Over the course of the next year Koga worked with a Sogetsu ikebana master Hiromi Sugioka to blend flowers and branches from the tree together seamlessly to create revitalized works of art that are now found throughout the property. “I wanted to revive this Kiawe in a new form,” said Sugioka, who conceived and directed the process.

The finished masterpiece showcases the beauty of ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of floral arrangement, and honors the Kiawe tree’s natural, woodsy character. As the sculpture sits in place at the Halekulani lobby, Koga envisioned that this would be a “breath of fresh air” for guests and that it is the perfect representation of “all of Hawaii’s nature and beauty coming together in one little object.”

Hawaii from home and learn more about the Kiawe tree’s history, John Koga’s artistic journey and the art of ikebana by discovering our Living episodes and articles:

• Kiawe Tree – Tree of Life  [episode] [article]
• John Koga – A Sense of Renewal [episode] [article]
• Ikebana – The Form of Florals [article]


Photos by @wayneleveinimages, @markkushimi, @kennareed courtesy of @nellamediagroup.