In The Garden
Big Isle tree has stunning flowers, seeds
Endemic: Hawaii Island only
Description: These small trees grow up to 20 to 25 feet, with long, teardrop-shaped leaves.
The young leaves and the underside of more mature leaves are usually covered with minute, golden-brown hair. Flowers emerge as manapua-shaped clusters protruding from the stems. Once pollinated, they develop into large, nut-shaped capsules that are almost cubic in form, about 3 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. Inside are many reddish-black seeds which stand out against the bright orange inner surface of the seed capsules.
This plant is found only on the Big Island, in mesic forests throughout the leeward side from Kohala to Kau.
Cultural uses: Little is known about this plant from a cultural point of view, but it is interesting to see the seed capsules when they ripen. They open by folding back and exposing the bright orange inner surface and dark seeds within. This is to attract birds that feed on the oily seeds and help disperse them. This is one of the favorite foods of the nearly extinct Hawaiian crow the 'alala.
Landscape uses and care: Easily one of the nicest foliage plants native to Hawaii, these plants take little watering and do great in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil.
The foliage, along with the unique flower clusters and stunning seed capsules, make the plant extraordinary.
If left alone to grow, it will become a large bush, full of foliage from bottom to top. Few pests bother it once it is established in the ground, but prior to that, watch out for mealybugs, scale and sooty mold.
If you notice these pests, simply treat the plant with a store-bought pesticide and fungicide, being sure to follow directions carefully.
Right now, beautiful specimens in 3-gallon pots are available at Hui Ku Maoli Ola native plant nursery for $40.
Additional info: This plant also goes by the names ha'awa, a'awa, a'awa hua kukui.
The name a'awa hua kukui probably stems from the fact that this plant's fruit (hua) somewhat resembles that of a kukui nut.
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