Aleurites moluccana (L.)Willd. Kukui nut   Euphorbiaceae

Latania loddigessii Mart. Blue lantan palm - Arecaceae

The kukui tree, Aleurites moluccana, that grows in the tropics and subtropics of the Old and New Worlds, protects its nuts with three separate coats.  The green outer covering is hard and measures about one-and-a-half inches (4 cm) in diameter.  Inside this a thin, white, crust-like shell surrounds the seed.  The next covering, a thick, woody, wrinkled seed-coat, protects the oily seed itself.

Early Polynesian migrants carried kukui seeds to Hawaii. The high concentration of oil in the nuts provided light for their stone lamps.  The raw seeds are poisonous, but roasting dissipates the toxin and makes them safe to eat.  Hawaiians make many edible dishes from the seed.

In order for the seed to be used ornamentally the oily nut meat of the kukui must be completely removed.  The most common way to do this is to drill a hole in each end of the seed and let insects clean it out.  Then the nuts are polished and buffed mechanically, oiled and strung into leis.  In the days before technology made this a simple task, natives spent long hours rubbing the hard ridges of the outer coat away with a stone.  Then they buried the seeds in a marsh to season and blacken them.  Finally, they polished them with the large stems of a breadfruit tree, which acted like a very fine sandpaper, then oiled and strung them.  The entire procedure was so time-consuming that it took a whole year to process enough kukui seeds to make a lei.

 

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