On the road …again!!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Under the WiliWili Tree
Starting just as soon as it gets light, you can see one or two people stooping over to pick something up from the grass under the WiliWili Tree. Local residents, tourists, and visitors to Honolulu can be seen there, at all hours of the day. If you pay attention, those passing by and stopping to bend over, also include those walking their dogs.
Although the location of the WiliWili Tree is right next to a sidewalk at a city crossroads only three blocks from Waikiki Beach, the neighborhood is a quiet one and is off the beaten path. So, although the dozens of infrequent visitors may be identified as locals with their dogs; tourists who speak with Canadian, European, Korean, Spanish or Japanese accents; or those who have previously leased apartments nearby; they seem to make frequent visits to that sidewalk after they are charmed by the gifts showered from above. After a while, you can recognize some of them because they come back often. When asked, they tell you they also come from Italy, from the UK, or from Guatemala. They may not have been aware of the attraction when first they visited, but the attraction, once discovered, does not leave them. Young and old alike, they come to look for the tiny but bright red seeds shed from the seed pods of the WiliWili Tree.
seed from the necklace tree
About half of the people that the Footloose Forester asked did not know what kind of tree it was. It did not matter, they were there to pick up the pretty, hard and brightly colored seeds from under the tree…and on the sidewalk…and in the road…and across the street. The seeds drop down from the wide crown of the 40 foot tree, whose canopy extends beyond the sidewalk and partially shades the road itself. In addition, the strong trade winds that are common during the fruiting season help to disperse seed in all directions. Sometimes a strong gust of wind will tear off the mature seed pods that hold 10-12 seeds. One local resident told the Footloose Forester that he had been collecting almost daily for the past four months. By now, he said, he had a quart jar almost half-full. One woman said that she had collected about 5,000 seeds; and another local resident said that she had about 2,000.
Many of the personal accounts about seed hunting under the WiliWili Tree were obtained by the Footloose Forester by asking questions of those who came to hunt for seeds. That is why he concluded that about half of the visitors didn’t know anything about the tree except that it shed pretty red seeds. And none among the other half of seed hunters who called it the WiliWili Tree knew that it was not really a WiliWili Tree.
The botanically rare Erythrina sandwicensis, the true WiliWili Tree of Hawaii, is classified as a threatened endemic plant species. There are few known specimens that still exist in their natural habitat; and still accessible to the public on the Island of Oahu, where Honolulu is located. The neighborhood source of fascination and seed hunting enjoyment is known botanically as Adenanthera pavonina. A Google search with the words “necklace tree” will turn up photos of a typical tree, including leaf arrangement; flowers; seed pods; and the uniquely shaped and colored red seeds that locals in the neighborhood will know came from their very own WiliWili Tree.
Yesterday we started to drill holes in the red seeds, in preparation to making a bracelet or two. The work is slow but sure. Planning to add photos to this story, after the first bracelet is finished.