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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2004

Red sandalwood suits furnishings; seeds good for lei

By Heidi Bornhorst

Q.What is the tree on the corner of Harding and 6th avenues, mauka diamondhead corner, in back of St. Patrick's School? This tree has small, red seeds or beads. We have seen them made into leis and also hatband leis.

— Wallace F. and Alice K. Froiseth, Kaimuki

A. This is one of the many trees known as wiliwili haole, or false wiliwili, here in Hawai'i. It is also called hua'ula'ula and red sandalwood tree. It is in the bean family and is from Asia. Its scientific name is Adenanthera pavonia. (True native Hawaiian wiliwili is Erythrina sandwicensis. It also is in the bean family.)

The uniform red seeds resemble beads. They are perfect for seed lei and fun to collect. The seeds are so nearly uniform in size and shape they have been used for precise measurements, such as those needed by goldsmiths and silversmiths. They weigh in nearly every time at four grains (a jeweler's unit of measurement). They are sometimes referred to as Circassian seeds.

The wood is nicely colored, strong and durable. This is how it was nicknamed red sandalwood. The wood is used for fine home construction and woodworking in Asia.

There are a few of these trees around town. As keiki, we used to refer to Thomas Square as the "wiliwili tree-seed park." We would beg to go there and collect seeds. We knew where all of the trees were. We never got a drill to make a puka, but we collected them for years.

There are young trees in Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kane'ohe, and there is a nice, big old tree in Foster Botanical Garden. The Palolo housing project has several beautiful, mature specimen trees.

What's in bloom

We sure are having a fragrant year. Stephanotis is dripping with profuse, fragrant, white, waxy blossoms off of every chain-link fence in the warmer sections of town. Gardenias are going off, and we hope to still have a lot of them by Lei Day.

Various colors of 'ohi'a lehua are gracing Hawai'i gardens with their blooms in red, yellow, orange and shades in between. Gardeners have sure gone to town on getting more of this choice native Hawaiian tree into our gardens.

Honohono orchids, those fragrant, delicate lavender blossoms so fragile and cherished, are having an early season. These are an old-fashioned kama'aina garden plant that we don't see so much nowadays.

Mine surprise me, as I hadn't seen the buds with all the rain, and there was a hidden cluster, sheltered under a broad leaf.

I visited my parents, and they had several in bloom, including a choice one mounted on an areca palm trunk, in a companion planting with some colorful bromeliads.

My mom has had these plants since her honeymoon. A neighbor gave her some cuttings as a gift and told my mom, "Just water them every time you look at them." My mom has kept them growing, replanting every year for more than 50 years.

Some gardeners swear by rice-rinse water and fish emulsion. Others spray for thrips in the "A" months, April and August.

Nobile dendrobiums, which are closely related to honohonos, are blooming in more mauka gardens, such as those in Mountain View and Wahiawa. Phaleonopsis, or butterfly orchids, also are having a good blooming season.

One of the many great things about Hawai'i gardening is the choice of orchids that grow and bloom with relative ease.

Heidi Bornhorst is a sustainable-landscape consultant. Send questions to islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com or Island Life, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802.