In The Garden
Kukui trees pack utility and ubiquity
Polynesian introduction: all of Hawaii except Kahoolawe
Description: Large trees up to 60 feet tall, easily distinguished from afar by their light green foliage. Also recognizable are their distinct leaf shapes, beautiful flower clusters and familiar fruit. Honestly, if you don't easily recognize kukui by now, you need to get out more.
HUI KU MAOLI OLA
The seeds, leaves and delicate flowers of the kukui tree are often used in lei.
This is a Polynesian-introduced tree now naturalized and becoming increasingly invasive on all of the main islands in the mesic forests from sea level to about 2,000 feet in elevation.
Cultural uses: One of the most used plants in Hawaiian culture, nearly every part of the kukui had a purpose.
The seeds primarily were strung on a palm midrib and burned to make candles, hence the name candlenut tree.
In addition, the juice from the husk of the fruit was used to make a black dye, while the bark around the roots made a similar dye for canoes.
Tree resins and sap were used for medicine and for glue, while the nuts were roasted and made into a delicious relish called 'inamona.
The seeds, leaves and flowers can also be made into leis.
Landscape uses and care: Kukui can grow big, so make sure you allow for lots of room around this tree. It is extremely easy to grow, attracting few pests, if any, and needing hardly any water once established in the ground.
Just make sure to pick up as many of the fallen seeds as possible, or else they'll germinate all over your garden.
Very nice, large kukui trees over 8 feet tall are available at Hui Ku Maoli Ola nursery for $100 apiece.
Also: Because we have become so technologically advanced in Hawaii, we no longer use kukui as much as we used to, so it is becoming more and more dominant in our mesic forests, often shading and crowding out a lot of other native plants that would otherwise have thrived there.
We need to get back to our roots and continue to use kukui as we did in the past, primarily so that it won't out crowd out its native neighbors, but also to continue to preserve our cultural history.
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