Hawaii State Tree
Candlenut Tree or Kukui (common name)
Aleurites moluccana (scientific name)
Hawaii is the only state with an official state tree that is not native. The original legislation designating candlenut cites the tree as native to all the Hawaiian Islands, so perhaps its history of introduction was not recognized at the time. A native of Malaysia and Polynesia, the candlenut was brought to Hawaii and many other tropical locations by early Polynesian settlers who valued its many uses. The tree is also known as candleberry, Indian walnut, Belgaum walnut, Kemiri, varnish tree, or Kukui nut tree.
Candlenut is a member of the poinsettia family, with white flowers and walnut-like spherical fruit. The seeds are poisonous in their natural state. Their oil has been used to make preservatives, varnishes, and soap, and today is used for skin care. This oil, which may make up over 70% of the content of the seed, is similar to tung oil (produced by a related species). The seeds are flammable and can be burned like a candle, likely the reason for the tree's common names candlenut and candleberry.
Candlenut is a medium-sized tropical tree, averaging about 50 feet (15 m) in height. Its crown diameter is typically the same as the tree's height. Candlenut has large leaves, which are variably shaped or lobed, and pale green. Candlenut's flowers are small, five-petalled, white or greenish-white, fragrant, and showy when abundant. The fruit is spherical and about two inches wide. It contains one or two large seeds.
Height: 33-82 ft (10-25 m)
Diameter: 3 ft (0.9 m)
Bark: smooth, light gray, often with lichen growth in moist areas
Fruit: hard, rough, black shell 1–1.4 in (2.5–3.5 cm)
Leaves: pale green, simple and tri-lobed, 4-8 in (10-20 cm) long
There is no confirmed lifespan data available for kukui, but it is estimated to live 40 to 60 years.
Candlenut grows in subtropical, dry to wet and tropical, very dry to wet forest climates.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
Candlenut is not a food source for animals, but many types of birds find shelter in the tree's canopy.
OTHER USES AND VALUES
Many parts of the plant, including the seeds, leaves, flowers, and bark, were used in traditional medicine. Caution is advised in using the plant medicinally or for consumption, as all parts of the tree are toxic.
In Hawaii, the flowers were once used to treat e'a (an oral fungal infection) in children. The sap that wells up at the stem attachment just after harvesting young kukui fruits is used traditionally by Hawaiians to treat this infection, as well as cuts and sores.
In ancient Hawaii, kukui nuts were burned to provide light. The nuts were strung in a row on a palm leaf midrib, lit at one end, and they burned one by one every 15 minutes or so. This led to their use as a measure of time. Hawaiians also extracted the oil from the nut and burned it in a stone oil lamp. Throughout Polynesia, candlenut is known in local languages by names whose root means "light."
Candlenuts have traditionally been roasted and mixed into a paste with salt and seaweed or chili peppers to form a Hawaiian condiment known as inamona.
Hawaiians used the shells, leaves and flowers for leis and the charred nuts as ink for tattoos. Since the wood is easily worked, they used it for short-lived, lightweight canoes and fishnet floats. The wood is straw colored and very lightweight. Because it is not resistant to decay or insect attack and has poor durability, candlenut wood is rarely utilized for timber.
In landscaping, kukui is often used as a windbreak, living fence, or screen. Kukui is widely used as an ornamental tree for its thick silvery-green foliage. It is widely grown in home gardens in the Pacific for its usefulness and beauty.
The tree can regenerate rapidly, even on poor sites, if the soil has sufficient moisture. Because germinating seeds grow into seedlings quickly, seeds lend themselves to either being direct-seeded in the field or pre-germinated in the nursery. Candlenut can also be propagated by cuttings, but this is uncommon and may not yield a plant that grows as vigorously as a seedling.
Candlenut is native to Indo-Malaysia. It has been introduced throughout the Pacific Islands, and is now common there. The tree is also found in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Gulf Coast of the United States.
This tree prefers light- and medium-textured and lightly acidic to alkaline soils. Kukui is known for its ability to grow well on slopes, even steep gulches and cliffs.
Candlenut thrives in moist, tropical regions up to 3,940 feet (1,200 m) in elevation. It grows in Hawaii at elevations up to 2,300 feet (700 m).
Disclaimer: The authors and publishers do not engage in the practice of medicine. Under no circumstances is this information intended as a medical recommendation.
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U.S. Forest Service
U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: World Trade Press