A Hawaii Artist discovers beauty and more in Island Sourced Materials!
Badminton Ball Tree-Parkia biglandulosa
-4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant
1. What is it? The Badminton Ball Tree is a member of the bean/pea family. It is a fast growing, perennial, deciduous tree typically grown in lowlands. It can grow up to 60 feet or taller in fertile soil. The leaves are bipinnate or multi-branched with 40 pairs of leaves further divided into 65 pairs of leaflets each. It has a lovely umbrella shaped canopy is a beautiful dark green. The tree is fire-resistant due its thick bark. It is also drought tolerant and is nitrogen fixing. The flowers are what gives the tree its name Badminton Ball. They are borne from long stems up to 1' long and are globose, hermaphroditic (containing both male and female parts), and look just like a badminton shuttlecock or even a light bulb. Flowering occurs once the tree has lost its leaves so the flowers are easily seen if you are looking for them. After the flower head goes bald, clusters of 6"-12" pods form. Each pod can hold from 5 to 20 flattened seeds and is comprised of a yellow pulp. As the pods mature, they turn a brown to tar-black disengaging from the round head and falling to the ground. With the stronger trade winds here, I can sometimes find stalks with the pods still attached. The rigid stalks are also eventually shed from the tree
2. Where did it come from? The Badminton Ball tree is originally native to the savanna woodland of Sudan, Africa. Seeds were originally obtained by Dr. Harold Lyon, in 1909 from the Royal Botanical Garden, in addition to other species to reforest soggy ground areas on of windward, Kailua, Maui. Because this area was not one of commercial production, the cost to correct drainage would not be cost effective. The introduction of tropical forest trees tolerant of soggy roots, was a more economical choice. The African Locust is a multipurpose tree with all of its parts including leaves, pods, seeds, bark and timber be used. The pod’s pulp is rich in carbohydrates, making is a superb energy source and has been used as a sweetener and fermented producing an alcoholic beverage. The young pods are cooked as a vegetable, and young leaves are also eaten. The seeds can be roasted and used a substitute for coffee. Leaves, bark, roots and fruit have a wide range of medicinal benefits from treating fever, diarrhea, boils, burns, pneumonia, skin irritations and more! The outsides of pods along with the bark produces a blue dye, fibers from pods and roots are used as sponges, and strings for instruments. Soap is made from pounding the leaves. There was also a study done in Hawaii with the powder from pulverizing the seeds and using them to kill termites. The tree has been introduced and is naturalized in India, Indonesia, Haiti, Trinidad, Tobago, the Caribbean, and Hawaii.
3. When is the best time for collecting?
We collect the flower stalks and seed pods twice per year as they fall to the ground. The flower stalks have unique dimples from where the pods attach and have a very out of this world appearance. Both the flower stalks and seed pods are stored in open air containers.
4. How are the collected plant parts used?
Both the pods and flower stalks are used as decorative elements on both our baskets and pouches. The pods used less frequently due to their large size and weight.
*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.