Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawai`i
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`Ape - `Awa -`Awapuhi -Hau -Ipu -Kalo -Kamani -Ki -Ko -Kou -Kukui -Mai`a
Milo -Niu -Noni -`Ohe -`Ohi`a `Ai -`Olena -Olona -Pia -`Uala -Uhi -`Ulu -Wauke
Queen Liliu`okalani wrote in a letter to a friend in 1901 that..."for it to rain while the sun shines, the old wise ones say that these showers are for strewing the petals of our mountain apples, preparation to the coming of the fruit — then another shower and the ripening of it. It is very poetical to us — the idea is continuity of life."
As summer arrives, we can look forward to the fruit of the `ohi`a `ai. Late summer and early autumn is the time to gather the apples. Be sure to take along a long-handled fruit picker, because these offerings are usually high up and beyond easy reach.
A member of the myrtle family, Eugenia malaccensis grows in groves or alone in protected shady valleys where there is plentiful rainfall. The trees are found in humid areas, at altitudes of up to 1800 feet on the windward mountainsides of the islands. The tree may be as tall as 50 feet or only a small shrub. It is said to have originated in India and Malaysia, which accounts for the fruit sometimes being called Malay apple. This plant grows well on many Pacific islands and is another of the plants whose seed were brought to Hawai`i by early Polynesian settlers.
`Ohi`a `ai is a relative of the yellow rose apple and the crimson flowered `Ohi`a `lehua. The blossoms all secrete sweet nectars that attract birds and insects. `Ohi`a `ai is also related to guava, eucalyptus, Java plum, Surinam cherry and allspice. In Malaysia and India, the rose apple represents the golden fruit of immortality and is associated with the Buddha. In Hawai`i, the red `ohi`a `lehua is associated with the goddess of the volcano and fire, Pele, about whom many songs and legends abound. It is also treated in reverence to Ku and Kane. This plant is considered the kinolau of Ku. In Tahiti, the `ohi`a `ai is called ahia and was traditionally for sacred temple use. The `ohi`a `ai was perhaps one of the few fruit of the people of Hawai`i before others were introduced by Europeans and other later settlers.
The trunk of the mountain apple tree was used by the people of old to build beams for their hale, house. The tree has gray, smooth, spotted bark. The bark is traditionally used for medicine. The leaves are dark green, smooth and shiny, thick and oval and are paired. The youngest leaves are usually tinged with red. They are also used for medicine. It is said that young leaves from saplings and the bark from mature trees are made into a warm drink for the mother of a newborn baby. This is to assist in expelling the afterbirth and to cleanse the mother's body after giving birth or even after a miscarriage. Remedies using pounded bark have been placed in the mouth for lesions and also for lacerations. The leaves can be processed for a tonic, and the old fruit of this plant was considered a helpful remedy for sore throats.
A reddish brown dye for making patterns on tapa bark cloth was processed from the bark and the root of `ohi`a `ai.
The cerise colored flower blossoms are shaped like a star-burst of bright filaments, growing on short stems on the tree's trunk and main branches. There is also a variety of mountain apple that has white blossoms and fruit.
After 7 to 8 years, the tree begins to bear fruit, usually in June. The waxy fruit are thin-skinned, delicate, crimson-red with splotches of pink and white. They hang all along the branches and trunk, rather than at the ends of twigs, like some other fruit. They are 2 to 3 inches long, oval and slightly block-shaped. The fruit pulp is crisp, white, sweet, juicy and refreshing. The delicate taste is not very distinctive, somewhat like a pear. Inside are 1 or 2 large round brown seeds. We can grow backyard trees from these seeds, watering them well and looking ahead seven years to maturity and the tree's fruit bearing.
Usually, the fruit is eaten raw, but sometimes it is dried and eaten later. It is also made into preserves and pickles. Fresh is best!
O Hinaia`ele`ele ka malama, `aluka ka pala a ka `ohi`a. Hinaia`ele`ele is the month when the mountain apples ripen everywhere.
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