There are close to 600 species of Pandanus, according to the University of Hawaii agricultural plant website. The Garden also features a non-thorny, variegated variety of Pandanus utilis. The Hawaiian people utilized Hala in several ways. Various mats and baskets were woven of its leaves (after the sharp edges of the leaves were carefully removed), and sometimes Hula skirts were made with numerous strands of the leaves. When there was not much else to eat, nourishment could be obtained by chewing on the basal portion of the fruit “keys” when ripe. When the flesh is removed (either by being eaten or by rotting off), the basal ends of the fruit segments resemble a shaving brush or stubby paint-brush. The Hawaiians used them for applying pigments to their tapa cloths.
With the variety seen on the Rainbow Walk, both edges and the midrib of the long, dark green leaves (Lau Hala) are lined with a row of stiff, sharp spines. The leaves are arranged spirally along the outer ends of the thick, round, multiple branches. At the base of the branches, numerous 2-inch diameter prop roots grow downwards, taking root when they reach the ground. In addition to supporting the heavy, spreading shoot system of the plant, the prop roots also absorb water and minerals from the soil. If one plants a flesh free fruit that hasn’t completely dried up, up to 6 small Hala plants can sprout. The small seedlings should be separated once they have produced more than 3 or 4 green leaves.
The English common name of the plant comes from two distinctive characteristics of it–the helical/screw-thread leaf arrangement and the pineapple-resembling fruits—thus Screw-Pine..
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