The Polynesian and a Kukui Nut Tree

The Polynesian and a Kukui Nut Tree

Kukui nuts are rad – you typically see them worn as leis by the Disney Polynesian staff but also anyone who is living aloha. They are also worn throughout the islands as everyday adornment and for special occasions.

These nuts do more than make us look good, they have a VARIETY of uses. For starters, Kukui nuts contain about fifty percent unsaturated oil which enables them to ignite and burn like candles – they were burned in torches and stone lamps. Kukui literally translates to mean “lamp” or “light”.


Other nut uses include:

  • Applying the kukui nut oil to wooden howls to make a glossy, waterproof finish
  • The soot (pau) of burned nuts provided a black dye for tattooing and stain for painting designs on canoes and on tapa cloth
  • Shelled nuts are roasted and pounded into a paste in order to make inamona poke


There is more to the tree than just the nuts. Hawaiians used the trunks of kukui trees for:

  • Construction of canoes
  • The sticky gums and resins were used medicinally and as glue to strengthen tapa
  • The inner bark provided a red-brown dye for tapa cloth and `olona cordage

The Kukui nut tree was named the Hawaiian State tree in 1959 however it is not a native plant. Its blossom is now the official flower of the island of Molokai.  So now you see how big a deal this tree is and can appreciate how amazing it is that the Polynesian Resort in Florida actually has one!  The tree is located behind the Great Ceremonial House and can be distinguished from the other foliage by its light-green silvery leaves.  Its rumored to be the only Kukui Nut tree on the mainland of North America.

In addition to the above, this special tree has both internal and external medical applications and is considered to be a powerful la’au (plant/tree) by traditional healers to this day.  Separate from this is its spiritual meaning in the leaves as the embodiment of the pig god, Kamapua’a.


  1. Kukui Nut Jewels of Hawaii, Armstrong, Wayne- Ornament; Summer2005, Vol. 28
  2. Indigenous Hawaiian Nonmedical and Medical Use of the Kukui Tree, RYAN A.K. YOUNG,1,* LUIS G. CRUZ,1,* and AMY C. BROWN, Ph.D., R.D.2 – THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE, Volume 11, Number 3, 2005


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *