The leaves of the `Olapa , Cheirodendron trigynum (Gaud.) A. Heller, are distinctive, consisting of five leaflets, giving it the shape of the human hand. It grows on all islands at elevations of 2,000 to 4,000 feet, but is most common in East Maui in the middle forest zone of the slopes of Haleakala. It is here at elevations of 4,000 feet that it attains its best development, reaching heights of 40 to 50 feet.
The trunk of the `Olapa tree may be as large as 2 feet in diameter, and has a smooth yellowish bark when growing in wet forest and a rough scaly bark when found in dry regions. All parts of the tree emit a very strong carroty odor when bruised and the wood is said to burn green. Small green flowers form in clusters at branch tips and develop into black fruits about 1/4 inch in diameter. The early Hawaiians obtained a bluish dye for tapa from the leaves and bark.
`Olapa, Cheirodendron trigynum Gaud., an endemic species of the ginseng family (Araliaceae), is one of Hawaii's most common forest trees and is always conspicuous in the woods by its foliage, which is in constant motion. Its habitat ranges from mesic to wet forest to the bog of Mt. Kaala, Oahu, and on all main islands, except Kahoolawe.