Updated: Oct 21
Weleweka,The Mgambo-4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant
1. What is it? Weleweka (Hawaiian name), The Mgambo is a member of the Soapberry family. It is a tropical tree related to litchi, rambutan, longan, soapberry and a Hawaiian native 'a'ali'i. It can grow up to 80 feet and will take extreme pruning, which I encourage, to keep it in check.. Typically found growing in lowlands. Its leaves are compound, pinnate leaves with up to 10 pairs leaflets per leaf and are very shiny green. The inconspicuous flowers (very small lighter green with a tinge of reddish pink) at the tip of the branch can easily be missed if you aren’t looking. It is the seed and seed pod from this plant that are the attention getters. The exterior of the pod-3 sided pagoda-like starts as light green, turning tannish brown and then popping open to reveal a beautiful hot pink-to red interior and hairy grey seeds often called Velvet seeds. The Swahili word mgambo means “announcement” or “proclamation” and this plant delivers . Being from the Midwest originally, it truly reminds me of a pussywillow.
Forest & Kim Starr-starrenvironmental.com
2. Where did it come from? The Mgambo is native to an East region of African The first mgambo probably arrived here from Sri Lanka in the early 1960s and several large specimens can be found on Oahu. It grows very easily from seed and I have 3 in my yard. The original use was probably as an ornamental and the seed strung for lei and other jewelry. The wood is also beautiful, a fine grained type prized for cabinetry. Mgambo has been used to treat fever, wound infections and intestinal disorders in traditional medicine as the pods and leaves have antibacterial properties.
3. When is the best time for collecting? Flowering and fruiting happens at least 2 times per year and the pods can be picked once they turn tan or you can wait until they pop open. I often pick them when I happen to notice they aren’t green any longer or when they first pop open. I have been told by others that if you get the seeds before they are too dry you won’t have to drill them just use a needle. Also the fuzziness is supposed to never rub off.
4. How are the collected plant parts used? Many use the seeds for jewelry. I have primarily focused just on the pods. Each of our baskets, pouches, bud vases have a Mgambo pod on them for that touch of intense color which it retains indefinitely. I have occasionally used some of the seeds on our Christmas ornaments to represent Taro. Others have used the pods in arrangements or potpourri.
*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.