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Albizia is a genus of about 150 species of mostly fast-growing subtropical and tropical trees and shrubs. The genus is pantropical, occurring in Asia, Africa, Madagascar, America and Australia, but mostly in the Old World tropics.
Kukui Nut is a medium to large sized tree with widespreading or pendulous branches. Young leaves are large, up to 12" long. Palmate, shiny leaves on mature trees are ovate, entire, and acuminate. There is a whitish substance above them when young, that becomes green with age, with rusty stellate pubescence beneath when young, and perisiting on veins. Small flowers in rusty-pubescent panicled cymes, dingy white or creamy. Fruit an indehiscent drupe, roundish, 2" or more in diameter. Bears two heavy crops each year, harvested when mature.
The kukui nut has many uses. Originally it was most valued for its light, the oil of the white kernels being extracted for its use in stone lamps and in ti leaf sheath torches. The tree is sometimes called the Candlenut Tree. The nuts are widely used as a traditional lei, both the hard shells of the polished black, tan or brown, and immature white, which are more rare. The Kukui Nut lei were worn by royalty back in the days of the Hawaiian monarchy (Alii). The kukui nut leis are finished and polished and will last for years. The bark, flowers and nuts are all used for medicine. As food, a small amount of the pounded roasted nuts, plus salt and sometimes chili peppers, is used as a relish and is called inamona. Pure Kukui Nut Oil has been used by Hawaiians for centuries to protect and heal skin exposed to harsh sun, drying winds, and salt water. Kukui Nut Oil penetrates the skin well and is said to be excellent in treating many skin conditions including psoriasis, eczema, aging skin, and acne. Bark used on tumors in Japan. The oil is purgative and sometimes used like castor oil. Kernels are laxative stimulant, and sudorific. The irritant oil is rubbed on scalp as a hair stimulant. In Malaya, the pulped kernel enters poultices for headache, fevers, ulcers, and swollen joints. In Java, the bark is used for bloody diarrhea or dysentery. Bark juice with coconut milk is used for sprue. Malayans apply boiled leaves to the temples for headache.
The Pulai Tree is a native to Southeastern Asia, and is widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions. It can grow to a big tree, typically taller than 20 feet, or a smaller tree, which is 10-20 feet in height. This hardwood evergreen tree prefers full sun or semi-shade and a soil that is evenly moist but can tolerate some drought. It also prefers an acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
The Pulai Tree produces fragrant white or off-white flowers throughout the year, making it a popular ornamental plant in many regions. It attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. An ethnomedical plant, it has various medicinal benefits. The latex is used against shingles, boils, abcesses, and ringworm and is an ingredient in chewing gum. The leaves and roots of the tree also possess antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
When grown in pots, the Pulai Tree needs regular and even watering and is best placed in a sheltered spot away from cold winds. In areas located in USDA Zones 9-11, the tree can be grown outdoors, otherwise it must be placed over winter in a protected location. However, it is important to note that the plant is potentially poisonous or toxic when taken internally, so it should be kept away from children. With regular care and maintenance, the Pulai Tree can bring year-round beauty and fragrance to any garden or home.
This fascinating rare plant with white, strongly perfumed flowers is valued as a fast growing, impressive ornamental shade tree.
Popularly known as Devil Tree, as plant is believed to the devil's abode - probably due to the intoxicating fragrance emitted by flowering trees, especially at night.
The tree is of great cultural significance in the intellectual circle, as traditionally its leaves were awarded to scholars and teachers during convocation ceremonies by the Visva Bharati University (can't think of a better name than Alstonia scholaris!). This tradition was started by Rabindranath Tagore.