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  • Writer's pictureAmy Christmas

A Hawaii Artist discovers beauty and more in Island Sourced Materials!

Hala, Screwpine-Pandanus tectorius

4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant

Forest & Kim

1. What is it? 1. What is it? The Hala (Hawaiian name) Pandanus is a member of the Screwpine family. It is a tropical evergreen shrub or tree. It can grow up to 35 feet but generally doesn't grow more than 15-20 feet. A plant that resembles a palm tree but isn’t. Considered a tough plant because of its drought, salt, wind, and poor soil tolerance. Typically found growing in coastal lowlands. Its leaves are arranged in a whorl around the trunk like the threads of a screw and have serrated edges and midrib, cutting anyone brushing against it, while some of the variegated varieties are spine free. The Pandanus has distinguishing roots which look like stilts buttressed against the main trunk above ground. It is dioecious which means the plant is either a male or a female. The male has a unique flower fragrant and recognizable because of its creamy white paper-like bracts clustered in groups of 3 which are collectively about a foot long. The female produces a quite spectacular looking fruit which resembles a pineapple-and of course, most visitors may have never seen a pineapple growing so can be easily mistaken when they see it, hence the name “Tourist Pineapple”. The fruit is actually a grouping of 35-80 seed keys which as they ripen turn more yellow and fall to the ground. I personally think they look like giant candy corn. They eventually turn brown with fringed bottoms looking like paintbrushes. Each holds about 2 seeds and the key is buoyant with seeds remaining viable for months even when floating in the salty sea water.

Forest & Kim

2. Where did it come from? The Hala is native to an area of Northern Australia through a number of tropical islands of the Pacific Ocean (including Indonesia, Micronesia and Polynesia) to Hawaii. It is believed to have been carried as one of the canoe plants with the Polynesian voyagers also just in case it wasn’t in the new lands. This plant has much significance to all cultures with a multitude of uses: the leaves used to weave mats and canoe sails, clothing, crafts, thatching of roofs, and additionally, even to flavor food. The wood for furniture. The male flower bracts have been used to weave fine clothing and the female fruit eaten, used in lei, with the dried fruit utilized as a brush for painting tapa. The aerial roots used for cordage. Pandanus is second in importance to the Coconut to the Polynesians.

3. When is the best time for collecting? Flowering and fruiting happens 1-3 times per year with the leaves available year round. I often pick them off the ground when fully tan, but they can also be removed from the plant quite easily when tan as well without hurting the plant. I used to always gather the spiny variety until I found that the variegated variety was easier to work with for me and required a bit less preparation. There is generally a great supply of fallen leaves so I am picky about the quality, leaving the less perfect ones.

4. How are the collected plant parts used? Many use the Lauhala (the leaf of the Hala) for weaving of mats, hats, bracelets. It can be dyed and cut into strips quite easily and is quite durable. I use them in their natural state for a ribbon-like look on the baskets, smaller Lauhala roses and our Angel ornament bodies.

*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.



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