ʻAʻaliʻi (Dodonaea viscosa)
Hawaiian Name(s): ‘a‘ali‘i, ‘a‘ali‘i kū makani, ‘a‘ali‘i kū ma kua, kumakani
Scientific Name: Dodonaea viscosa
'A'ali'i (Dodonaea viscosa) is either a shrub or small tree up to 30 feet tall that is native to Hawai'i, as well as other parts of the tropics and subtropics, including Florida and Arizona.
In Hawai'i, it is found in the wild from coastal areas up into the mountains. It usually grows in open sites such as ridges or lava fields. This plant grows in dry areas, moist areas and wet areas. Not a whole lot of native plants have such wide distribution. It is native to all the main Hawaiian islands except Kaho'olawe, but it is reasonable to assume it was once found there as well and it is being planted there in the restoration efforts to bring back the native flora of that abused island.
Protect & Preserve Hawai'i is working to restore degraded ecosystems and rely on the ‘a‘ali‘i to jumpstart forest regeneration.
‘Ōlelo Noeau: [M. K. PUKUI]: He ‘a‘ali‘i ku makani mai au; ‘a‘ohe makani nana e kula‘i.
Translation: I am a wind-resting ‘a‘ali‘i; no gale can push me over.
Meaning: A boast saying, "I can hold my own, even in the face of difficulties." The ‘a‘ali‘i can stand the worst of gales, twisting and bending but seldom breaking off or falling over.
It has hard, durable heartwood. Corner posts of houses sometimes included ‘a‘ali‘i wood, as did fenceposts.
Weapons such as spears were also fashioned from the wood.
A sticky resin covers the leaves, which turned the plant into a torch when it was ignited.
On the culinary front, ‘a‘ali‘i’s fruit has been used instead of hops when alcoholic beverages such as beer were prepared.
The attractive, colorful seedpods continue to be used in lei po'o, which are worn around the head.
Seedpods were also used to make a red dye, which was used to decorate kapa (tapa) barkcloth.
The National Tropical Botanical garden reports that ‘a‘ali‘i leaves were chewed to relieve the pain of toothaches. Because these leaves contain very astringent tannic acid, toothache sufferers spat out the juice without swallowing it.
In some cultures where Dodonaea viscosa grows, it is taken internally to reduce fevers. In all parts of Hawai‘i, ‘a‘ali‘i was ground to a paste and then employed to relieve rashes.