The Kukui Nut
The Kukui Nut Tree
Useful & Symbolic
You may be wondering what those dark nuts hanging around your neck when you arrive at a luau (that came out wrong.) Women are often given flower lei or shell lei, but men usually get a kukui nut lei. Here are a few interesting facts about the nuts dangling from the Candlenut Tree.
The Kukui, also known as the Candlenut Tree, is scientifically referred to as Aleurites moluccana (L.) Willd., and it was introduced to Polynesia thousands of years ago. This tree belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family, which is part of the Spurge Family.
Look in the moist gulches of our hillsides and notice the areas of light-colored foliage. These are kukui groves. The light green leaves of the kukui are covered with a fine, silvery powder that makes them shimmer in the bright sunlight. Clusters of small, white flowers are borne at the end of the branches.
There are so many ways to make use of this tree and its plant parts. The kukui is an important source of dye. Colors ranging from copper red to black can be extracted for dying kapa (bark cloth).
The leaves, trunk, bark, nuts, sap, and flowers provide materials for fishing, lighting, eating, housing, tattooing, dye making, medicinal, ornamental, and ritual uses. A craft that is still popular today is stringing the polished, hard shell surrounding the kernels into “kukui nut lei.”
So useful and symbolic is the kukui tree, it is the official state tree of Hawaiʻi. A big mahalo to Kahanu Gardens for the many lessons about the land around us.