New Series Kicks Off by Featuring Hawaii's Own Kukui Tree
Growing Green is an informative new series in The Dispatch, that is all about plants in Hawaii and how we can use and propagate them. We use plants for food, medicine, shade, and the like with bonsai piece of mind.
There are countless numbers of different plants from 'A'ali'i to Zamia, from as small as algae to as large as Norfolk Island pine, and as sweet as mango to as sour as lemon. Growing Green will showcase one plant per article.
I feel that it is right to start with the kumula'au (trees). To many ecosystems, trees, are the foundation in which the secondary plants, animals, and people benefit. Hawaii is a fantastic place to tree watch. With climates ranging from ocean to snowcapped peaks and from desert dry to rain forest the potential for diversity is high.
Being on Molokai we’ll start with the Kukui Nut (Aleurites moluccana) which is also the official state tree of Hawaii. Kukui was and is important to the people of Molokai. It can be found from high mountain valleys to coastal lowlands and all parts of the plant can be used.
Brought to Hawaii by the early Hawaiians Kukui nut is found all over the Pacific as far away as Malaysia. Kukui Nut is a medium-large spreading tree 10 – 20 meters tall. The spreading nature of the tree gives it a classic shade tree shape perfect for parks and public places. The tree also has the ability to grow straight up with no branches for over 40 feet to get to the sun in the shady valleys.
The leaves of the Kukui are a beautiful silvery green that can be seen from miles away. Interestingly there are a number of different varieties where the leaves, nuts, and even chemical composition vary.
Today we see on TV the skin care products made from the oils of the kukui nut having a healing property to sun exposure. Hawaiians have used nearly every part of the plant for some beneficial property. Some of the uses for the nut were medicine, inomona, oil lamps, and in modern times lei.
The sap was used as glue and the leaves for medicine, lei, and decoration. Kukui wood is a soft pulpy wood. The fallen trunks of the Kukui have also been used in the propagation of the edible Hawaiian mushroom, Pepeau.
Having so much significance it is nice to know it is not endangered and easy to grow. With trees it is always important to know if a particular location is right for a particular tree. Kukui is the kind of tree you don't want to put under your electrical lines or in tight places. It wants to have room to spread out. Pruning can do a lot shape and train a tree but natural tendencies need to be taken into account.
In propagating the tree I like to pick the nuts or sometimes pick them off the ground. It's always a good idea to look carefully at the nuts and make sure there are no unwanted beetles, ants, or other bugs. Then I let them dry out a little bit over about a week or so. Take off the outer covering and you will see the hard seed inside. I like to dry this out for about a week or so as well. Then I put the seed somewhere that’s wet and shaded. You can do this in a pot on the shady side of your house and keep it watered but not sitting in a puddle.
Germination times vary widely. It can be as fast as 2-3 weeks but usually is somewhere between 1-4 months. Once germinated the following growth is fast. I have planted a number of Kukui trees over the years and it is a very rewarding tree to grow.
Growing green is written by Fred Richardson/ Botanist, Owner of Molokai Nei Organics a Nursery and Landscaping company, 558-8215.