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What Is the State Tree of Hawaii? How Was It Decided?

Kukui Nut Tree

Hawaii is home to a variety of different types of trees, but one stands out because it’s been designated the official state tree. The kukui nut tree was named Hawaii’s official tree in 1959 due to its wide variety of uses. The tree is not native to Hawaii; it was introduced to the islands by Polynesians more than 1,000 years ago. Today, the tree holds cultural significance and is still used to produce goods such as leis. You have come to the right place if you are interested in learning more about the kukui nut tree!

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What You Should Know About the Kukui Nut Tree

The kukui nut tree is the only state tree in the United States that is not indigenous to its respective state. Every other state has adopted a native tree to represent them. But Hawaiians have long admired the kukui nut tree for its beauty and usefulness. This nut tree has ovate leaves that can grow up to 8 inches in length. The leaves have a thick, waxy texture that slightly resembles leather.

The bark of the tree is gray and smooth to the touch. The tree grows kukui nuts, otherwise known as candlenuts, and clusters of small white flowers that are slightly fragrant. It’s best not to eat the nuts, especially raw, because they are known to cause gastrointestinal distress due to the high oil content. However, they can be enjoyed after they have been roasted, fried, or baked.

Kukui Nut Tree
Image Credit: Harys Xu, Shutterstock

The Many Uses of the Kukui Nut Tree

There are many different ways that a kukui nut tree can be used, though today, not many people put the tree to use in any other way than as a landscape feature. But early Hawaiians would use the wood of the kukui nut tree to craft canoes that could be used by fishermen. The leaves and nuts would be used to produce fertilizer for crops. Sometimes, the nuts were crushed to create a dye that could be used for tattooing.

The roots of the tree could be used to paint canoes black. The trunks were used to make bowls, spoons, and other types of dishes. The nuts of the tree are so high in oil, they can be lit and burned like small candles, which is why they’re referred to as candlenuts. The oil of the nuts can also be used to cook food in the kitchen. Cooked kukui nuts are still used today to make a relish called Inamona for use in meat and fish dishes. The nuts are also used to create leis, especially those designated for men.

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A Quick Recap

The kukui nut tree is massive, beautiful, and extremely useful. The tree can be found growing on all the major islands in the Hawaiian chain, so chances are good that you will see a few during a vacation to the state. Just remember to not eat the raw nuts that you find under one of these trees!


Featured Image Credit: Theodore Trimmer, Shutterstock

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