‘A‘ali‘i in Hawaiian Culture: ‘A‘ali‘i is a prominent plant in Hawaiian culture and is often mentioned in oli and mele. In the ‘Ōlelo Noeau there are three phrases that make reference to the resilience of ‘a‘ali‘i against the strong winds where it often grows. These were used as a boast by people wishing to convey their power or steadfastness or as a description of a true comrade. In ancient times, the hard wood of ‘a‘ali‘i was used for hale construction as well as an assortment of tools and weapons. Fruits were boiled or ground-up in water to produce a dye for kapa; the fruits were also used in medicine. ‘A‘ali‘i leaves and fruits are still popular in lei today.
Collecting Seeds: Ripe (i.e., dry and brown) ‘a‘ali‘i fruits can be found from spring through fall. Each fruit normally holds 2-4 small (2-3 mm), hard, black, round seeds. In my experience, fruit color does not breed true in ‘a‘ali‘i. On numerous occasions, I have collected seed from plants with dark red fruits only to get offspring with yellow, pink, or red fruits. Still, if your main interest is ‘a‘ali‘i fruits, I encourage you to collect seeds from only those plants with the desired fruit color; hopefully, you’ll have better luck than me.
Growing from Seed: Myself and others have used several methods for germinating ‘a‘ali‘i seeds. Of course, the slowest means is to just sow the seeds in clean media; usually I use Method Two or Three (i.e., 1-2 seeds in individual containers). Unfortunately, with this method, you may be waiting weeks and the germination will be sporadic. Soaking the seeds for 1-2 days in tapwater first or placing the sown seeds in a mist chamber often hastens sprouting to a few days but not always. Manual scarification (tough on the fingers!) or hotwater scarification (people argue about temperature; I use 180oF) often gives the shortest and most synchronous sprouting. In all these cases, the trick is to get water through the seedcoat. If you’re observant, you can see when you’ve been successful. For example, after treating my seeds with hot water, I let them soak overnight. In the morning, I sow those seeds that have swollen to 2-3 times their original diameter. For the rest, I repeat the hotwater treatment and, again, soak them overnight. Normally, after 3-4 rounds, all my seeds have been sown and I can expect them to sprout within a week. ‘A‘ali‘i seedlings are pretty tough and usually remain pest-free in the nursery. You can hasten their development with foliar or slow-release fertilizer. After they reach 6-10 inches in height, they are ready for your garden.
Growing from Cuttings: I have never been successful in growing ‘a‘ali‘i from cuttings.
Growth in the Garden: As mentioned above, ‘a‘ali‘i grow fast. In 1-2 years you should have a 3-5 foot tall plant (unless, of course, it’s a prostrate variety) that is flowering. Avoid the temptation to water your ‘a‘ali‘i. While some varieties naturally occur in mesic forests, most prefer a dry climate; that means they’ll do just fine without you babying them. In fact, too much watering may promote fungal or bacterial attacks on the roots that normally wouldn’t happen. ‘A‘ali‘i can last a long time (10 years or more) but they don’t last forever. Therefore, collect and store away (in your refrigerator) some seed from your plants to use as eventual replacements.
Diseases & Pests: Grashoppers and a variety of other insects will, on occasion, chew on ‘a‘ali‘i leaves. Spraying with malathion or some other insecticide will keep these at bay. However, to be honest, I normally let this type of damage go since it is not life-threatening.
Recently, the introduced lobate lac scale (Paratachardina pseudolobata) has become a serious pest on ‘a‘ali‘i, capable of killing even large adult plants. If you discover this scale insect on one or two branches of your ‘a‘ali‘i, try to remove them by hand or prune and throw away the branch(es). However, if the infestation is widespread, the only effective treatment to-date is spraying or root drenching with a systemic insecticide like imidacloprid.
Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū