‘Kiawe’ means to sway in the breeze. ‘Kia’ means a pillar, post, prop, mast of ship. Ka ua kiawe i luna o ka lāʻau, the rain streaming down on the tree. (Ulukau) The English Hawaiian Dictionary defines kiawe as: a tree with wood used to smoke meat. 2. to stream, as rain, to sway. (Logan)
Humans have used the kiawe family of trees since at least 6500 BC for food, fuel and basic raw materials. Wood has been found in tombs in many archaeological sites in Peru dating as far back as 2500 BC. In Arizona, bedrock mortars have been found and it is now believed that these are special implements designed to grind the pods into flour.
In Hawaiʻi (in 1916,) it was believed that “no introduced tree has been of greater benefit to the islands than the kiawe (algarroba) – one of the mesquites.” (Judd, Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturist, 1916)
It is also known as the honey locust, honey pod, cashew, and July flower (the algaroba name comes from “Al-kharrubah,” the Spanish name of the carob tree, or St. John’s bread, the pods of which it resembles in flavor.) (We call it kiawe.)
The native home of kiawe is from California to Texas and through parts of Mexico, Central and South America, as far south as Buenos Aires.
While the history of its introduction to Hawaiʻi is not definite, the conclusion seems to be that the first tree planted in the islands was raised from seed brought by Father Bachelot when he started out from Bordeaux in the early part of 1827. The seed reportedly came from the Jardin du Roi de Paris and not from Mexico or Chile. (Judd, Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturist, 1916)
The tree was planted in December, 1828, in the north corner of the Fort Street Catholic church yard in Honolulu near Beretania Street. “By 1837 there were already several algarroba trees from the seed of the first one”.
“As the worn down missionary left his mission house never again to return to it, he looked upon the plant with moistened eyes and said as though prophetically: ‘Even as this young tree by Divine Providence will thrive and cover the whole of the island with its shade,’ etc.”
To make room for the expanding development of downtown, the original tree was severely topped in 1906. The 92-year-old tree had a diameter at breast height of 3 feet 3 inches when it was cut down in 1919. (Logan)
Sandalwood, Curley Koa, Naio, Willi Willi, Hala Pepe and others at one time, covered much of the leeward coast. The unsustainable harvesting of Sandalwood lead to nearly complete deforestation and major changes to the hydrology.
“Perhaps because of a history of human disturbance, the vegetation of the dry leeward zone is more fragmented and difficult to characterize than that of wet windward zones.” (Logan)
The leeward coasts of all islands in the state of Hawaiʻi tend to be arid to semi-arid, subtropical/tropical climates; there, the kiawe thrives.
Certainly, no man could have left a greater or more abiding monument, for the kiawe now covers vast areas on the different islands of mostly stony, arid, and precipitous land, which formerly was utterly worthless for other purposes. (Judd, Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturist, 1916)
More than 150,000-acres of dry kiawe forests in Hawaiʻi are descended from the single tree planted in 1828 in downtown Honolulu.
In August 1832, the tree was found to be hearing fruit. By 1840, progeny of the tree had become the principal shade trees of Honolulu and were already spreading to dry, leeward plains on all of the islands.
The following are some of the main products of the Kiawe and the chief uses considered in Hawaiʻi (as thought in 1916:)
- Wood for fuel, charcoal, timbers, and posts.
- Pods for fodder in their natural state and crushed into meal.
- Blossoms for bee pasturage.
- Trees for reclamation of waste land, ornament, and shade.
- Young trees for hedges.
The historic value of the kiawe in Hawaiʻi has been enhanced by the ease with which it can be propagated and its ability to grow in arid regions. The tree belongs to the leguminous family, and begins to bear pods when six years old and even younger.
These are eaten by stock, but the small seeds are not crushed while passing through the alimentary system but rather are prepared for quick germination by the action of the digestive fluids. The spread of the tree in these islands has, therefore, been due solely to stock and by this means the kiawe has become a wild forest tree.
It is estimated that it would have cost at least one-million-dollars to plant by human agency the 80,000-odd acres in these islands which have been covered with more or less density by kiawe forests. And this wonderful and comparatively rapid spread of the tree has been accomplished without the expenditure of one cent for planting.
The kiawe, moreover, has been spread mainly on the barren lowlands, although it has gradually been working up the valleys and slopes until it is now found well established at elevations 1,800-feet above the sea.
Although the tree will grow “with its toes in the sea,” its foliage is somewhat sensitive to the salt air when blow in by the strong trades. (Judd, Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturist, 1916)
Although most kiawe trees have thorns with strong spines, often 1-inch long, an estimated 25-percent of the mature trees produce only small, hard stipules rather than long, spike-like spines. (Long-thorn varieties can get to up to 4-inches long.)
The thornless characteristic has been noted for years, and as early as 1937, Hawaiʻi shipped seed from thornless kiawe trees to Cuba, Arabia, Australia, Fiji and South Africa. (Forest Service)
Irrespective of how folks felt about it 100-years ago, kiawe is considered an invasive pest and a noxious weed, because of the aggressive and expansive nature.
It produces a large number of easily-dispersed seeds and also establishes itself by suckering, producing thick stands that shade out nearby plants. It requires less than 4-inches of annual rainfall to propagate and grow. It is efficient in drawing water from the soil that it deprives other plants of water.
The image shows the first kiawe tree in Hawaiʻi – on Fort Street near the Our Land of Peace Catholic Cathedral (TheHawaiianForesterAndAgriculturist-1916.) In addition, I have included other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.