Kauila in Hawaiian Culture: Pre-contact Hawaiians did not have regular access to metal. Therefore, the hard dense wood of kauila was particularly valuable in the construction of items that other indigenous people made of metal such as tools and weapons. Additionally, the wood was used for hale beams, game pieces, and musical instruments. A bluish dye was extracted from the leaves and bark (Krauss 1993).
Collecting Seeds: Alphitonia fruits ripen from May to September. Collect only grey or black fruits; green fruits require further ripening. The fruits are quite hard with each fruit composed of 2-3 fused capsules with one seed inside each capsule. To extract the seeds, I crack the fruit with a small C-clamp into the smaller capsules and then place the capsules in a dry place. After several hours or a day, the capsules will open by themselves and the seeds are easy to remove. A thin parchment covers each of the black seeds and should be removed prior to sowing or storing. Alphitonia seeds will remain viable for 5-10 years in the refrigerator. After that, I’ve found most of my stored seeds do not germinate.
Growing from Seed: Soak kauila seed 2-3 days prior to scarring (with sandpaper). After sowing using Method One, the seeds take 1-2 months to germinate. Seedling growth is good (six inches in about three months), particularly if you use a liquid fertilizer once or twice a week. Seedlings are occasionally plagued by mites. (See Enemies in the Garden for treatments.) I normally plant out kauila seedlings when they reach a minimum of 10 inches in height.
Growing from Cuttings: I have never grown this species from cuttings.
Growth in the Garden: Alphitonia are very slow-growing trees. Even when irrigated they seem to take their time. This is in contrast to the other kauila, Colubrina oppositifolia, that isn’t a fast grower, but is definitely faster than Alphitonia. On the bright side, Alphitonia begin flowering and fruiting when they are only 2-3 feet tall. Be smart and collect these fruits religiously for storage or to give away to friends since it’s becoming harder and hard to find these trees elsewhere.
Diseases & Pests: Like other Hawaiian hardwood trees, Alphitonia is attacked by the black twigborer. Fortunately, once the tree is 2-3 feet tall, these attacks are normally not (instantly) fatal. Refer to Enemies in the Garden on how to battle black twigbores. Infrequently, I have found whitefly on the leaves’ undersurface. Normally, I just ignore these pests and the ladybugs eventually take care of them.
Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū