Say Goodbye to Monkeypod Trees; Honolulu Bans Planting Iconic Trees

A new law will turn Honolulu into a more Hawaiian place, botanically speaking.


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The Hawaiian Transformation has begun. Under a new ordinance, the city must now use either indigenous or Polynesian-introduced species when planting new landscaping, whenever feasible. While the full impact of the law won't be seen for decades, it will eventually change the face of the city.

The Honolulu City Council passed the legislation unanimously, and over the objections of Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who pointed out that the city will no longer be able to plant rainbow shower trees—the city’s official tree. “Imagine how Honolulu would look without these stunning trees for tourists and residents to enjoy,” Caldwell wrote in a letter to the council. (No trees are slated to be chopped down.) To help us imagine Honolulu’s arboreal future, we asked native plant expert Rick Barboza of the Hui Ku Maoli Ola nursery to recommend substitutes for the rainbow shower tree and two other now-common city trees.

Did you know? The kukui, aka the candlenut tree, was named as Hawaiis state tree in 1959.

The Honolulu City Council passed the legislation unanimously, and over the objections of Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who pointed out that the city will no longer be able to plant rainbow shower trees—the city’s official tree.

RAINBOW SHOWER TREE

Originally from Southeast Asia.
 

MONKEYPOD TREE

Originally from South and Central America.
 

FIJIAN FAN PALM

Originally from Tonga.
 

OHIA LEHUA

Its blossoms are as brilliant as those of the rainbow shower tree. Says Barboza: “It’s very flashy.”
 

LONOMEA

It’s comparable in size to the shower tree, but doesn’t produce as much litter. “It requires little watering, it’s easy to maintain and it doesn’t clog drains,” Barboza says.
 

KAMANI

Another tree with brilliant flowers that can grow to enormous sizes. Like the monkeypod, it’s a great shade tree.
 

KOU

Another tree with brilliant flowers that can grow to enormous sizes. Like the monkeypod, it’s a great shade tree.
 

LOULU PALM

“Loulu” can mean “umbrella,” as the loulu’s leaves were once used as protection from sun and rain.
 

MANELE

It can grow taller than 50 feet, with a canopy whose width is nearly equal to the height of the tree. It grows naturally in the mountains, but it can do well in low, dry urban areas, too.
 

Illustrations: Indigenous flowers of the Hawaiian islands, A Hawaiian florilegium: botanical portraits from paradise; photos: odeelo dayondon, michael keany
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