In The Garden
Sandalwood’s sweet smell lasts awhile
'Iliahi a lo'e
Hawaiian coastal sandalwood
Description: Large bushy shrubs or trees up to 15 feet tall, but usually 4 to 8 feet tall, with elliptical, pale, green-blue leaves and fragrant flower clusters that are light green with hints of salmon or orange. Once pollinated, the flowers develop into round fruits that ripen to a dark purple and have a single hard seed within. The most appealing feature is its sweet-smelling heartwood, which retains the sandalwood fragrance for a long time.
Four species of sandalwood are endemic to Hawaii, with even more subspecies. This particular species is found on all the main islands, mostly in low coastal regions, although it no longer grows on Kahoolawe. One natural plant on the Big Island does grow at above 6,000 feet.
Cultural uses: The sweet-smelling wood of 'iliahi is used to scent kapa, and the flower clusters can be used in leis.
Landscape uses: Plant 'iliahi in full sun or partial shade in areas where it can be easily seen -- you definitely want to show this buggah off. Also, plant it in the vicinity of other plants because all 'iliahi are parasitic. This means that in order for the plant to live a long, healthy life, its roots need to attach to the roots of another host plant. But don't worry, the 'iliahi won't kill the host. Some good host plants: koa, koai'a, 'ilima, ohai or 'ohi'a lehua.
Very little watering is needed, especially once the plant is established in the ground. It is available at both the downtown and Pearl City Home Depot stores, as well as at Hui Ku Maoli Ola native Hawaiian plant nursery in Kaneohe.
More information: Sandalwood was one of Hawaii's first exports. Trading was founded in 1791 by Capt. John Kendrick of Boston and lasted until about 1840, when the sandalwood was pretty much wiped out. It is estimated that 'iliahi sold for about $125 per ton and that the industry made close to $4 million.
Hawaiians were forced into labor, so the clearing of 'iliahi not only hurt the population of the plant, but also the morale of the people. There is even documentation of the labor being so brutal that family members would actually pull out young sandalwood plants so that their loved ones wouldn't have to do it in the future.
Rick Barboza co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 295-7777 or e-mail Rick.CK.Barboza@gmail.com