I was asked to do a demo on how to make a Hawaiian style Christmas wreath at the Kino’ole Farmers Market. The demo was yesterday morning and in spite of lots of rain, the market was lively! We had several people sit through the whole thing (2 hours!) and some came and went and at least 4 people tried their hand at adding a bit to the wreath.
To make a Hawaiian style wreath, you use native plant materials for which you need to go foraging up to the Volcanoes National Park area or on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea on Saddle Road (this is on the island of Hawai’i also known as the Big Island). Before you even start, the first thing you need to do to be able to pick in those areas is to get a special permit, which is free, from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. This permit should be on your car dash clearly visible in case a ranger or other official should stop by to see what you’re up to.
The second thing you do is look around for a good spot in which to forage or go with someone who is already familiar with several choice picking spots. As with most people who make this style wreath, I have my own particular favorite place to pick.
The third thing you need is to know what plant material to look for and what dries well so that the wreath will still look beautiful after its no longer fresh.
If you know all of that already, then you’re ready to start. When first arriving at the forest, you need to follow the proper protocol for picking which is to first “ask permission” of the forest deities as you enter the woods. This is a must and a sign of respect for all that surrounds you.
Another thing to consider from the conservation point of view and also out of respect for your beautiful surroundings, is to pick only what you will be using and not strip a bush or plant.
I try to pick no more than three 3 inch pieces from a small bush and no more than ten 3 inch pieces from a tree, such as the Ohia, and even then, not all from the same side of the tree, but go around it.
When I leave my spot I pride myself that no one should be able to tell anyone has been gathering plant materials there.
I prefer to use a straw wreath base which I first cover completely with ti leaves I then proceed to ‘line’ the inside diameter of the wreath with the uluhe fern, which is an invasive species and therefore no need to be careful how much you cut or use. It also dries beautifully, so that is another reason I like to use it.
Other ferns that look beautiful in the wreaths are palapalai, laula’e and whisk ferns. Another fern I love to use is the wawaei’ole which resembles little chenille pipe cleaners. If I can find it, I also like to use club moss or any other moss with interesting texture I find available.
The berries and the tiny, sort of prickly leaves of the pukiawe plant are also used. The berries can be red, pink or white even on the same bush and the use of bits of this plant give your wreath a light airy look.
Another berry and leaves that are interesting to use is that of the ‘ohelo, although we rarely if ever pick them in areas near the Kilauea Volcano, where many of the Hawaiian Nene, our State birds, make their home, because they like to feed on them. the ‘ohelo’s new growth will have red tips, which always add a note of color.
I usually look for the tight buds of the lehua blossom showing a bit of the red and also some of the blossoms. The lehua is the blossom of the ohia tree and in ancient times was a symbol of strength. The flower is the favorite of Madame Pele and represents the Big Island of Hawaii. Another wonderful part of the ohia tree to use are the tender new tips of branches as they resemble velvety green or silver rose buds.
Other plants such as the Uki grass are also used, especially when the “flower heads” have dried. There are other plants I like to use and some I’ve never been able to identify.
Some wreath makers like to use all one material such as Ohia for their wreath and others like to make patterns by the way they use several different materials. I prefer to mix all my materials throughout the process and I make little ‘bouquets’ taking about 4 or 5 different sprigs and holding them tight with my left hand placing it on the spot of the wreath where I want it and with the right hand I push the fern pin in as tight as I can so that the ‘bouquet; is firmly in place.
I also like to follow the same line; in other words, if I start placing my little ‘bouquets’ all going one way, the rest will follow behind, as tightly as possible, As the materials dry they tend to shrink a bit, but when placed tightly against each other, there will be no little gaps showing.
When your wreath is completed it can be hung on doors, windows or walls or if they are the smaller size, they are beautiful as a table centerpiece with a big fat candle sitting inside. If you use one as a candle ring, be sure to place the candle down first (on a plate that can catch the melted wax spills) and then bring the wreath down over it so that the center of the wreath will not look crushed down.
Straw wreath base; Fern pins; Wire (for hanging loop, if needed); Wire cutters; Scissors; Plant clippers; Ti leaves; Uluhe, Palapalai, Laua’e, Whisk or Wawae’iole ferns (Christmas tree or pipe cleaner fern); Club moss & other mosses; Lehua/Ohia – Buds, tips and blossoms; Pukiawe – berries and tips; O’helo – berries and red tips; Uki and oili grasses and any other interesting material you find.