Vegetation in Hawaii…The interesting Milo tree…

The trimmed Milo tree that we held with little regard until manager Mike told me its story.

Yesterday morning, as I wandered the area looking for interesting vegetation, I was particularly curious as to the trees that often appear in our photos when we take shots of the ocean from our lanai.

Originally, their recently trimmed appearance was somewhat of an eyesore in our photos. More than once, I maneuvered the camera in such a way to ensure they weren’t included in the photo.

Another trimmed Milo tree on the grounds.

Now, I feel a little foolish after meeting Mike, the property manager here at Milowai, our condo complex, explained this building was named after these interesting trees,  “Milo,” after the Milo tree, with the “wai” meaning “water,” tree by the water.

Mike explained they are a hearty tree with a major significance to the Hawaiian people as indicated in this quote below from this website.

“There are those who say that the beautifully grained milo wood utensils, furnishings, and jewelry were only for the chiefs of ancient Hawai`i. It is told that the Waikiki home of Kamehameha I was surrounded by milo trees.

Although rare today, in old Hawai`i milo was a commonly found tree, cultivated as a shade plant around homes near sunny coastal areas with loose soil. It does not grow in the high inland forests.
Brought to these islands by early Polynesian settlers who carried the seeds, this fast-growing evergreen tree was planted around the temples in Tahiti, as it was said to be spiritually connected to the chant and to prayer. It is a widespread species throughout Polynesia and Micronesia, as well as in tropical Africa.
Milo’s scientific name is Thespesia populnea, and it is also known as a portia tree. A member of the Hibiscus family, the malvacceae, it is a close relative of hau, `ilima, and ma`o, Hawai`i cotton.
The bark of milo was used for cordage fiber, similarly to hau, but it is inferior in quality to hau and to olona. The tree also yields tannin, dye, oil, medicine and gum, from various parts of the plant. The milo wood was skillfully crafted into poi bowls called `umeke `ai, and into plates, too. Calabashes/bowls of kou wood were more highly prized than those of milo, and were more often used.
`Umeke `ai is an honored implement in a Hawai`i home, for, through the ceremony of eating poi one at a time from the bowl at the center, the traditions and protocol of Kanaka Maoli is maintained. The `umeke `ai filled with kalo (taro) is considered the means of survival of the people of Hawai`i Nei.
`Umeke la`au is the Hawai`i name for these containers or calabashes of wood, which were used for the storage, transport and serving of food in various stages of preparation. Milo wood is flavorless since it is lacking in any unpleasant-tasting sap that could contaminate stored food.
The milo tree is a small to medium-sized one, growing to less than 40 feet high. The trunk can be 2 feet in diameter at full maturity. The bark is corrugated, with scaly twigs. The branches are widely spread and usually horizontal, making for an ideal shade tree. The glossy heart-shaped leaves are 3-5 inches across.
Young leaves are edible. Bell-shaped pale yellow flowers with maroon or purple centers turn purplish-pink as they within their short one-day hibiscus life. Following the flowering stage, the one-inch diameter seeds grow in globular 5-celled woody cases that have downy hairs on their surface. These remain on the plant for some time and ripen only in areas of dry climate.
Milo wood has an attractive grain that takes to a high polish and, in addition to food utensils and containers, was fashioned into paddles and other carved objects, as well as for an occasional canoe, although koa was considered to be the most popular material for canoes.”
Mike further explained that the Milo tree produces flowers as shown in this borrowed photo below (flowers aren’t blooming at this time) that are messy on the pristine lawn. As a result, they are trimmed once a year which occurred shortly before our arrival a month ago.
Beautiful flowers that bloom on the Milo tree. (Not our photo).
For more scientific information on this exquisite tree, please click here.
The flowers only last for one day, closing into and becoming a seed pod of sorts as shown in this photo below, none of which we’ve seen on the trimmed trees.
The flowers as shown above bloom only for one day, later becoming these seed pods from which eight seeds are eventually released. (Not our photo).

Mike also explained that the Milo tree does well growing near the sea and is unaffected by the salt from the sea which is very close to the Milo trees on the grounds here at Milowai.

I was also curious as to the type of grass on the lawn here. It is so perfect, it almost appears as if it isn’t real.  But, it is real. It’s called South Coast from which a fake turf is actually named. It too, like the Milo tree, suffers no ill effects from its close proximity to the salt from the ocean.

The carpet-like lawn at Milowai.

It’s ironic how we’ve dismissed this odd-looking trimmed tree to discover that in fact, it has its own story to tell, profound in the history of the Hawaiian Islands and its people. Now, we look at it with new eyes and interest.  Going forward, we’ll make no effort to exclude it from our photos.

Sorry, Milo.

                                         Photo from one year ago today, November 15, 2013:

This was the tiny freezer in Kenya. On this date a year ago, when we were leaving on December 1st, we assessed our food on hand to use in the remaining 16 days until we left for South Africa. And here we are now, assessing the food we have left for our departure date once again on December 1st before we leave for the Big Island. For details from that date, please click here.