It is suggested that initial Polynesian discovery and colonization of the Hawaiian Islands occurred between approximately AD 1000 and 1200. (Kirch)
These early Polynesians brought “Canoe Crops” (Canoe Plants) with them – shoots, roots, cuttings and seeds of various plants for food, cordage, medicine, fabric, containers, all of life’s vital needs.
One of these was Niu (Coconut) – it was used for food and cordage.
Not included as a canoe crop was another palm, the Royal Palm. Other than the obvious regal look to it, it is not clear when/where the Royal Palm got its name.
Actually, technically, its scientific name was Oreodoxa regia. That was changed to Roystonea to honor US Army engineer General Roy Stone who built roads in Puerto Rico (the tree is native to that Island territory.) It’s the national tree in Cuba, and featured on their Coat of Arms.
The Royal Palm is symbolic in the design of Hawaiʻi’s State Capitol. Forty columns, rising 60-feet and surrounding the building, represent Royal Palm trees.
How it first came to the Hawaiian Islands is a bit of coincidence – and a little bit of a family legend for an early missionary family.
Let’s look back …
In 1849, there was turmoil in the Islands between the Kingdom and the French. Largely due to personal hostility to RC Wyllie (minister of foreign affairs,) French Consul William Patrice Dillon had initiated a systematic and irritating interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom.
On August 12, 1849, French Admiral Louis Tromelin arrived in Honolulu Harbor and immediately met with Dillon. A list of “ten demands” was presented to the Hawaiian Government, with threat of cancellation of the existing treaty, and to “employ the means at his disposal to obtain a complete reparation.”
The demands not being met after the purported deadline, the French took possession of government buildings and wrecked the weaponry and the fort. Then, the Admiral and his men left the Islands.
King Kamehameha III sought restitution for the damages, as well as a new treaty with France. He appointed Gerrit Parmele Judd to lead a mission to France.
Joining him was James Jackson Jarves, as well as Prince Alexander Liholiho (later Kamehameha IV) and Prince Lot Kapuāiwa (later Kamehameha V.)
Arriving in Paris, negotiations did not go well; the French feared loss of face. Judd and the others could not negotiate a new treaty, and ten days later went to England.
There they agreed upon the basis of a new treaty with the British, similar to one concluded at Washington in December, 1849, was concluded with Great Britain July 10, 1851. (Case)
Later, with respect to the French, instead of restitution, a compromise was decided upon. Consul Perrin, successor of Dillon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote: “There is no need to tell you that indemnities are out of question. The word itself should be avoided: however, the Prince-President … wishes that … in his name, you put in the hands of King Kamehameha a very costly present.”
The present turned out to be an elaborate silverware table service. Today, the heavy, ornate silver service sent to Kamehameha III by Louis Napoleon of France is the formal tableware of the Governor of Hawaiʻi in Washington Place.
Judd and the two princes sailed from New York in the middle of July, 1850, homeward bound.
It is on that return trip that we pick up the story on the Royal Palm …
On September 9, 1850 (their arrival in Honolulu from this mission,) Judd’s wife was looking over his clothes and shaking out some small round seeds; she asked her husband what they were.
His said he had seen a beautiful palm while his ship stopped at some port in the West Indies (presumably Kingston, Jamaica.) He had a local boy climb up and pick a couple of seeds for him.
The Judds then planted the seeds on the grounds of Judd’s sister, Mrs Asher B Bates (at the corner of Bates and Nuʻuanu.) One of them grew. (The property subsequently fell into the hands of Mr. Charles Gray, and from him passed to Captain Hobron, then to his son, Mr TW Hobron.)
Hobron later confirmed (January 13, 1916) that the palms there were the first in the Islands. He noted a photo he was shown was “the grand old original palm … You can be certain that this is the grandfather palm of the Islands.” (Judd, Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturalist, 1916) From this one seed have come all the royal palms in the Islands. (Thurston)