Hawaii Tree Lore


Three flowering tropical trees: monkeypod, African tulip, and golden shower.


Beside a kukui tree, and young jacaranda tree with one burst of periwinkle flowers.


The silvery leaves and oil-rich nuts of the kukui tree. An indigenous tree, the kukui was considered sacred to the woodland and healing god Lono. The outline of the leaves resembles that of the head of a pig, one of Lono’s totem animals. Ancient Hawaiians used the nuts to make torches, and ground them as a sparingly used condiment (which, consumed in larger quantities, rapidly evacuates the bowels). Contemporary Hawaiians use them to make kukui nut oil soaps and massage oils.


A variety of imported palms at the gate to a private home. Many palm and cycad collectors live in Hawaii. Alas, when nurseries began importing palms from Puerto Rico, they inadvertently imported the tiny, loud-voiced coqui frog along with the palms, and, having no predators in Hawaii, the coqui is proliferating in the windward parts of the islands. The state and county officials have been so slow in responding to this particular infestation of alien species that it is now beyond control.


A rare Australian palm whose fruit is so poisonous that getting the juice on your skin can land you in the hospital for a week. Donna Keefer, who grew this hardy specimen, speculates that the tree must fight other organisms to survive in its native harsh climate, and it is over-armored for Hawaii.


A papaya tree loaded with fruit. Hawaii once exported Solo (yellow fleshed) and Strawberry (pink fleshed) papayas, but, because the ringspot virus was decimating much of the crop, chemical giant Monsanto and the University of Hawaii collaborated on creating two genetically modified strains, Rainbow and Sunrise. Today virtually all of the papayas in Hawaii have been contaminated with the GMO papaya pollen, since the field testing of these strains is open to the wind. This burdens organic farmers, since the standards to which they must conform exclude GMO species, and, worse, it emboldens Monsanto to sue those whose fields are thus contaminated for copyright infringement, since they consider the two GMO strains their intellectual property. Permaculture teachers say that ringspot virus wouldn’t proliferate in diversified agricultre; indeed most "pests" are the direct result of monoculture farming.