Afterthoughts: Gold Standard

The streets of Honolulu are paved with gold (flowers).
Katrina Valcourt

If I could give a Best of Honolulu award for Best Tree, it’d go to the golden trumpet. Each year these trees signal the start of spring, their blossoms bursting forth in a singular display of yellow that seems to come out of nowhere and vanishes just as quickly. One week, the formerly barren branches resemble the rising sun, raining slivers of gold onto the sidewalks below; the next, they’re naked once again. The good thing is they bloom more than once a year, and every tree seems to be on a different schedule, keeping Honolulu vibrant for months at a time.


I’ve always admired them but never knew what they were. Anyone I asked about “those yellow trees” told me they were probably rainbow shower trees, which became the official tree of Honolulu in 1965. Those are everywhere, and there’s even a song, “Shower Tree,” on Natalie Ai Kamauu’s Grammy-nominated album, La La La La.


But shower trees have cascading flower clusters that look like long vines, and they shed individual petals. The flowers I had begun to obsess over looked more like bouquets and were a deeper yellow than the pale shower tree flowers. It wasn’t until I ventured to Waipahu for a story and came across one of these sunny yellow trees in full bloom next to the Don Quijote parking lot that I actually took the time to inspect it up close. Of everything I discovered that day (Hawaiian bracelets with Powerpuff Girls on them, a Darth Vader waffle maker at Goodwill, and a seemingly neverending array of ube treats, from pastillas to sapin-sapin to cake to ensemada), this tree was the most captivating. Its bright and soft bell-shaped flowers stood in stark contrast to the asphalt, power lines, traffic cones and cement rail guideway. The ground surrounding it was entirely yellow from fallen blossoms. I felt like Dorothy enraptured by a field of poppies.

  flowers in Hawaii

Photo: Katrina Valcourt


After hours of research, I learned that the Department of Planning and Permitting recommends several species for planting, all of them with similar yellow flowers: the gold, golden trumpet and silver trumpet trees. Regardless of what they’re called, I’ve been seeing more and more yellow lately, including in my neighborhood, where they’ve recently been planted along the street. I wish they were even more prevalent, even though they’re not indigenous. In 2014, the Honolulu City Council determined the city must use native or Polynesian-introduced species for new landscaping, but that doesn’t apply to all individual plantings—which is a good thing because golden trumpets have benefits. For example, when faced with a gall wasp problem in 2017, McKinley High School replaced its infested banyan trees with the golden trumpets, which are naturally resistant to the pests (and beautiful. Have I mentioned that yet?).


I just might get my wish. Mayor Kirk Caldwell committed to Honolulu planting 100,000 new trees by 2025, with a goal of 35% urban tree canopy (tree cover) by 2035. From December 2017 to March 2019, the city planted 2,147 trees, according to the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency. There’s even a group, Trees for Honolulu’s Future, that provides resources and coordinates tree-planting among public, private and nonprofit entities.


We need more trees—I don’t think anybody denies that. If we’re going to keep this city livable amid rising temperatures and energy costs, we should all do our part to advocate for such a low-cost, high-benefit solution. Especially if that means turning the skyline a brilliant, cheery yellow.