Alahe‘e in Hawaiian Culture: I have heard different interpretations for the meaning of the name alahe‘e, but the one I prefer is from Heidi Bornhorst (2005). According to Heidi, the ala in alahe‘e is a corruption of ‘ala which means fragrance, while he‘e is the Hawaiian word for octopus. So, does this mean alahe‘e smells like an octopus? No. Rather, the fragrance of alahe‘e flowers is slippery – like an octopus. Long ago, Hawaiians discovered the best way to appreciate the fragrance of alahe‘e flowers was not to pick the flowers and bring them to your nose, but rather to stand downwind and let the scent come to and envelope you.
While kauila and uhiuhi were preferred, Hawaiians often fashioned the hard wood of the more common alahe‘e into tools and weapons. Because alahe‘e tends to grow straight, it was particularly suited for making spears. (What could be better than an alahe‘e spear for he‘e spearfishing!) A black kapa dye was made from alahe‘e leaves (Krauss 1993).
Collecting Seeds: Wild alahe‘e fruit once a year, usually during the fall and winter; cultivated trees may have an extended flowering and fruiting season. Collect the fruits when they are blackish-green and soft. Be wary of holes in the fruit (see photograph). These are caused by the larvae of a moth (Orneodes objurgatella) that feed on alahe‘e seed. If the damage from this seed predator is extreme, consider bagging and repeatedly spraying the small immature fruits with a systemic insecticide. Seedlings often appear under or near a parent tree. These can be successfully transplanted provided they are not too large (2-4 true leaves is best) using Method Three. While fresh seeds germinate best, cleaned alahe‘e seeds remain viable in the refrigerator for at least ten years.
Growing from Seed: Using Method One or Two (preferred), alahe‘e seeds, soaked for three days, take about one month to germinate. Seedlings are frequently attacked by scale insects. Eliminate these pests before they kill the young plants (see Enemies in the Garden). Alahe‘e seedlings grow rather slowly but you can speed this up a bit with a control-release of dilute liquid fertilizer. Use an iron-rich fertilizer if you observe yellowing leaves. It normally takes 3 to 6 months for the young trees to reach 8-12 inches; at this size, they are ready for the garden.
Growing from Cuttings: The definitive study on growing alahe‘e from cuttings was conducted by Dr. Richard Criley (Professor of Horticulture at the University of Hawai‘i, Manoā) and his associates from 1996 to 2009. Criley found it very difficult to root alahe‘e cuttings, with less than 20% of the cuttings rooting after numerous and repeated chemical and physical treatments. His most successful method utilized greenwood cuttings under high humidity (rather than intermittent misting) treated with a mixture of IBA and NAA. http://www.reeis.usda.gov/web/crisprojectpages/0167486-genetic-diversity-and-the-propagation-of-native-hawaiian-plants-for-the-ornamentals-industry.html
Growth in the Garden: Alahe‘e does best planted in full sun to partial shade. Initially, newly-planted alahe‘e grow quite slowly, even when fertilized and frequently watered. However, after about a year in the ground, your young tree should start growing at the rate of one to two feet per year. Flowers and fruits normally develop after reaching 3-4 feet. Alahe‘e exhibit a wide tolerance for watering, but you’re likely to have less problems if you water no more than once a week.
Diseases & Pests: Scale insects continue to be an occasional problem even with large trees. If these pests don’t disappear on their own, refer to Enemies in the Garden for ways to battle them and the ants that often protect the scale from natural predators. Regularly check the base of your alahe‘e for root mealybugs; a serious infestation can kill the tree. See Enemies in the Garden for ways to eliminate these root pests.
Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū