Is Koa Wood Endangered – Or Extinct?

Concerned people sometimes ask, “Is Koa wood endangered, or even extinct?”   The answer is a resounding “NO.”  Koa wood is not and has never been on any endangered species list.  There is more Koa growing in the Hawaiian Islands today compared to ten years ago. 

Is Koa Wood Endangered – Or Extinct?

Koa wood is endemic to Hawaii.  The species Acacia Koa grows only in Hawaii and no place else in the world.  Sure, other species of the acacia family grow in other parts of the world.  But, the species Acacia Koa grows only in Hawaii.    Some companies try to fool people by harvesting Filipino Acacia trees and passing it off as Hawaiian Koa. Don’t be fooled.  Unless the wood is grown in Hawaii, it is not Koa wood. 

Koa trees have been growing in Hawaii before the earliest Polynesian settlers ever came to Hawaii.  Man did not bring Koa to Hawaii.  Koa was growing in Hawaii before man arrived.  This is the reason why Koa is so highly prized in Hawaii.   Koa has been on these beloved islands longer than even the Hawaiian people themselves.

The name Koa means “Strong, Warrior.”  The Hawaiian word for the warriors of King Kamehameha, the Great, was “Koa.”  In the Hawaiian language, Koa means “warrior, strong, and noble.”  The great King’s mighty warriors made weapons and canoes using the wood from strong hardwood trees that they found growing all over the Big Island.   Eventually, this wood itself became synonymous with the great King’s warriors and it became known as Koa.  King Kamehameha, the Great, once owned his own Koa forest in the area now north of Hilo in the Hamakua District of the Big Island.  

In the past century, the King’s Koa forest gave way to plantation grazing land for cattle.  But fortunately, in the past five years, over 25,000 new Koa trees have been replanted in this same location where the King’s forest once grew.  The efforts of Hawaiian companies like HLH and Martin & MacArthur have led to this major reforestation effort north of Hilo, Hawaii.

Koa is NOT endangered and never has been.   Some people wrongly assume that Koa is an endangered wood.  Nothing is farther from the truth.  Koa has never been on any endangered list.  In fact, today there is more Koa growing on the Big Island than in the past ten years.  Reforestation efforts by the large plantation owners have accounted for the most new Koa trees growing today.  Ranchers regularly fence off the land where dead trees are removed.  This allows new Koa seedlings to grow, undisturbed by cattle, pigs, dogs or other animals. 

Only dead Koa trees are used.  The largest purchaser of Koa in the world is Martin & MacArthur, a local Hawaiian company that has made fine Koa furniture in Hawaii for over 53 years -- longer than any other company in the entire history of Hawaii.  Martin & MacArthur never cuts down any Koa trees. In fact, it only uses Koa from dead and previously fallen trees.  By taking these dead trees off the land, new Koa seedlings can germinate and grow.

More importantly, for every piece of Koa furniture purchased, Martin & MacArthur plants a new Koa tree in honor of the customer.  This new Koa tree has a GPS code so it can be tracked on Google Maps.  Customers can even visit the Koa tree planted in their honor.

In Summary.  Koa is not endangered.  There is more Koa growing in Hawaii now than in the past ten years.  Companies like Martin & MacArthur only use wood from dead trees and take the lead in planting new Koa trees for future generations to enjoy.


Written by Michael Tam, an enthusiastic supporter of Koa reforestation who can trace his native Hawaiian lineage back six generations on Maui.