The hau is common near the sea in many tropical countries. It is a typical strand plant, although it thrives anywhere from sea level to 2000 ft. elevation.
Hau is a perennial tree that can grow either as an erect, bushy, with
horizontally spreading crown or gnarled, crooked tree of medium or low
height. It can form a creeping jungle of impenetrable network of trunks
and branches. Long stems can recline and form roots when they touch the
a light-weight, tough white wood that was highly valued in traditional
Hawaii. To cut the tree, a permission from the village chief was necessary.
The hau branches were piled on the shoreline to indicate a fishing kapu,
especially when spawning was ongoing in that area. The pith of the stem
was soft and can be used to make fire. Since the wood is buoyant in water,
it was used for fish net floats, as well as light-weight practice spears,
massage sticks, brooms and cross-beams for kites.
When the inner bark is retted, a hau cordage (`ili hau) can be extracted which had many uses to the Polynesians. In Tahiti, where the plant is called fau or purau, the bark yields fiber and the leaves are used for plates and oven covers. In Samoa, the bark is used for straining kava and the fibers are made into siva skirts. In Mexico, the wood is used for cork; the bark for cordage; and the flowers, roots and bark were used medicinally. In Hawaii, the slimy sap of the flower bud was used as a mild laxative.
Hawaiian legends tell of hau as the visible form of Manoa wind and Hina's sister was changed into a hau tree. Tahitian legend say that the hau is the grandchild of heaven & earth.