A wiliwili good time: Festival brings community together to celebrate iconic tree

  • Wiliwli Festival attendees learn about various native trees and hardwoods at the Forest Solutions exhibit. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Four-year-old Radan Rosan displays the bright red-orange wiliwili tree seeds after opening a seed pod during Saturday's 11th annual Wiliwli Festival at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Wiliwili, Erythrina sandwicensis, were among the native plants given away to attendees during Saturday's 11th annual Wiliwli Festival at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • People of all ages make their way through the various exhibitors during the11th annual Wiliwli Festival at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Wiliwili Festival attendees take part in a guided hike through the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve on Saturday in Waikoloa Village. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Master Gardener Louise Gaston explains to Stacey Dorn the wiliwili tree seed germination process during Saturday's 11th annual Wiliwli Festival at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • An array of lowland dry forest plants that will be outplanted in the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve are displayed Saturday during the 11th annual Wiliwili Festival. The festival offered attendees the choice of several native plants to take home and add to their own yards. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today) Master Gardener Louise Gaston explains to Stacey Dorn the wiliwili tree seed germination process during Saturday's 11th annual Wiliwli Festival at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Ten-year-old Phoebe Davis looks through a microscope at the leaf of the endangered Solanum incompletum, or Popolo ku mai, during Saturday's 11th annual Wiliwli Festival at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve Manager Rob Yagi gives a workshop on growing native plants at home during Saturday's 11th annual Wiliwli Festival at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • A wiliwili tree, Erythrina sandwicensis, grows within the 257-acre Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve in Waikoloa. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • A wiliwili tree in seen in bloom in this 2014 file photo. While the wiliwili may not have been in bloom Saturday, the community was blooming with excitement and cheer at the 11th annual Wiliwili Festival in Waikoloa Village. (BRET YAGER/West Hawaii Today, file photo)

While the wiliwili may not have been in bloom Saturday, the community was blooming with excitement and cheer at the 11th annual Wiliwili Festival in Waikoloa Village.

Scores of residents and visitors alike ascended on the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve for the annual festival celebrating the lowland dry forest and the iconic wiliwili tree, Erythrina sandwicensis. The wiliwili is one of Hawaii’s few endemic deciduous trees and will typically lose their leaves in the summer months, during periods of drought, before flowering in late summer.

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Saturday’s free festival, which was held virtually over two days with guided hikes in 2021 amid the now-waning COVID-19 pandemic, returned to a more normal format this year. It featured a host of exhibitors and educational booths, guided hikes, open hiking trails, plant propagation workshops, native plant giveaways, a keiki-friendly scavenger hunt and more at the 287-acre preserve off Waikoloa Road.

Through interactive presentations, and experiential learning at the preserve, the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative hopes to raise awareness about conservation in Hawaii and to inspire the community to get involved with local organizations working to protect and restore Hawaii’s resources.

For many, Saturday was the first festival with in-person events they’ve attended since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

“I’m so happy,” said Stacey Dorn, after getting a lesson on wiliwili seed germination from Master Gardener Louise Gaston. “I’m very thrilled to be interacting, with live people!”

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