POSTED: 10 JANUARY 2008 - 9:00am HST

Monkeypod Tree

image above: Monkeypod trees on plaza development site in Koloa Town. Photo by Juan Wilson

Birds and Plants of Kauai:
The Monkeypod Tree

by Linda Pascatore on 10 January 2008

During a recent vigil at the tree site, Poni Kamauu gave this chant to the Monkeypod Trees in Old Koloa Town:

The “Ohai” Trees (monkeypods)

Guardians that remain unmoved
Watching the winds from above
My “lei” of “ohia” (monkeypod) blossoms came from the sea
to be a plaything for Kalo’a (The child’s name is Kalo’a)
The Sea the creator of Life.

He kia’a o ka ‘ane’ene’e
He na-na o Makani no Luna
Ku’u lei ‘ohai alo ‘ehu kai
He hoa ka’ana

Aloha--Poni Kamauu

Beginning in late 2007 and currently in early 2008, there has been an ongoing demonstration to save the Monkeypod Trees in Old Koloa Town. There is a development planned which calls for the cutting of many of these old trees to built a shopping center and parking lot. Although alternate plans that will preserve the trees have been proposed, so far the developer has not agreed to change their plans.

To contact the developer:
David Nelson
Nelson Companies Inc.
6960 Orchard Lake Road #200
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
(248) 539-9020

image above:Candlelight Vigil to save the Monkeypods. Photo by Juan Wilson

The Monkeypod Tree, Samanea saman, is an alien tree to the Hawaiian Islands. It originated in Central and SouthAmerica, but is now common throughout the tropics as a shade tree. The scientific name, Pithecellobium, means “monkey earring” in Greek, thus the name Monkeypod. It is also called the Saman in Latin America, the Mimosa in the Philippines, and also referred to as the Rain Tree. In Hawaii, it is sometimes referred to as the Ohai tree, but is not to be confused with an endemic woody shrub which is also called ‘Ohai.

Two Monkeypod seeds were brought to Hawaii in 1847 by a businessman, Peter Brinsmade, who had passed through Panama on the way here. One seedling was planted in downtown Honolulu, and the other in Koloa on Kauai. These two trees are thought to be the progenitors of all the trees in the state. Therefore the trees in old Koloa town may have descended from the first Monkeypod tree, the grandmother of all the trees on Kauai.

The Monkeypod is a large tree that provides a beautiful canopy of shade. It is commonly found on lawns, gardens and public parks in Hawaii. It also grows wild in old pastures and fields. The tree can grow to 80 feet tall. It is in the legume family, and is a broad, flat-topped tree which has twice compound dark green leaves, paired leaves that fold up in the dark and open with the light. This allows rain to fall through the canopy, so that the grass under a monkeypod stays green even in time of drought.

The flowers are clusters of pink stamens, which look like powderpuffs in the tree tops. The sticky, dark brown seed pods are 6-8 inches long. Reddish brown seeds are normally carried by birds or rodents, and germinate quickly and easily. However, long term survival of the seedlings is more difficult, as they require sunlight and are susceptible to herbicides.

The wood of the monkeypod is often used for carving, and commonly seen as salad bowl sets sold to tourists here. The wood is easy to work and doesn’t shrink much during drying, which means it can be worked when green. Most of the Monkeypod used for woodworking is now grown in Thailand or the Philippines rather than in Hawaii. The pod has sweet pulp that can be used for animal feed. Pods can also be chewed for a licorice-like flavor.

You can find Monkeypods all over Kauai, in many public venues. Enjoy their majestic canopy and cool shade!

image above: Monkeypod tree canopy. Photo by Carol Ann Davis-Briant

For more on Hawaiian Nature see below:
Island Breath: Hawaiian Nature Menu
The Flora and Fauna of Hawaii

21 Oct 2007 - 10:30pm HST

Taro: The Staple Food Plant of Hawaii Kalo is Haloa, the ancestor of the Hawaiians
6 March 2007 - 10:00am HST

Hawaii Nature: The Hunakai sandpiper Known widely as the Sanderling, they frequently visit Kauai