The Introduction of Kiawe (Prosopis pallida) to Hawaii.
By Neil Logan
Last Updated 2/18/09
The Plaque to the first kiawe ("Algarroba") in Hawaii on Fort Street in Honolulu.
300+ year-old "Algarroba" (Prosopis pallida) in northern Peru.
On November 21st 1826 La Comete left France on its voyage to the Sandwich Islands. Before arriving in Honolulu circa July 6th 1827 the ship made two stops in Peru for 6 weeks. On board was Hawaii’s first Catholic Priest, Father Alexis Bachelot, also known as the man who brought Kiawe to Hawaii.
"Huarango" (Prosopis pallida) clinging to the sand dunes in Ica, Peru
Vineyards at the Bodegas Vista Alegre with sand dunes in the background.
Kiawe is botanically known as Prosopis pallida. The tree is a tropical legume from coastal South America whose range spans southern Ecuador, coastal Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile. Half way between the Port of Quilca, Arequipa and the Port of Callao, Lima, is an inland desert town of Ica. Ica is world renown for its dry climate, massive sand dunes, and excellent wine. In the early 1500’s the Spanish attempted to produce wine in different regions of Peru. They first tried the high altitude region of Cuzco, and then later moved to Arequipa before finally settling in the lower Ica Valley where they could achieve the quality they wanted. Up to that time the sand dunes were covered with forests of a tree the locals call huarango. This ancient Quechua word translates to “the tree” or “the one” an allusion to its significance as the tree of life in a marginal desert environment. Under Spanish rule massive trees were cut down and their trunks used for making presses to extract the sugary liquid from grapes. After fermentation the wine is distilled into brandy using carbon de huarango. Today, the national drink of Peru is the pisco sour a combination of brandy, milk, and syrup of the huarango pods known locally as algarrobina.
Perhaps the Catholic Priest was more interested in producing one of the central sacraments of his religion than keeping barefoot Hawaiians off the beaches? To Father Bachelot’s credit, the trees around Ica, Peru often have tiny thorns or no thorns at all. He probably thought he was planting a thorn free tree.
Wine Press made of "Haurango" from the 1500's at the Bodegas Vista Alegre in Ica, Peru.
There are more than 6,000 years of documented usage of kiawe pods and its relatives (The Mesquites) in the Americas. Highly organized civilizations developed which supported large populations subsisting primarily on kiawe pods long before the development of corn or the uprising of Mesopotamia. Kiawe pods are a non-genetically modified, gluten free, soy free, non-toxic human food of antiquity. Syrup made from the pods is a highly nutritional supplement given to children and lactating mothers to fortify their diets. The tree can produce fruit the second year after planting and will continue to bare for more than one thousand years. It grows in harsh, saline, tropical environments including lava and 100% ocean water.
Cottage industry products based on Algarroba from northern Peru
Kiawe molases, Pod flour, pollen, honey, coffee, flan, propolis, from Ica and Piura, Peru, and the islands of Hawaii and Molokai.
The priest planted at least one tree on Fort Street in Honolulu, which is thought to be parent to all of the Kiawe in Hawaii. How can this be? Kiawe are known locally to have both male and female trees. The trees can be either female or male and some properties of the tree change with sex. Botanist know the trees to be self-incompatible hermaphrodites that have highly variable morphology dependent upon environmental factors like the availability of fresh water, salty soil, or stress from drought and herbivory. In the dry season the trees produce flowers and fruits and they tend to be thornier. In time of rain, the trees produce less fruit and produce little to no thorns; females and males respectively.
Technically, one lone tree has a low chance of producing viable offspring. Assisted by cattle, in only 100 years kiawe spread across approximately 155,000 acres through out all main islands as an important fodder. Honey production was a welcome byproduct of pollinating flowers for pod production. Hawaii quickly became the world-leading exporter of honey and much of that came from Kiawe. The stockman made a profit while fattening their cattle and re-foresting the coast. Forests left after cattle ranching provide a source of charcoal and gourmet firewood. The tree has long been labeled as the most important tree ever introduced to Hawaii.
Kiawe forests are excellent Honey Bee forage and the pods are excellent animal food. Together bees and cattle planted the kiawe forest of Hawaii.
Kiawe provides food and energy on a sustainable basis.
In the early 1900’s Hawaii was cut off for a time from mainland supplies due to wartime conditions. This could happen again and with only 4-5 days of food available in the state where would we turn?
Today, some people remember picking up beans as children, and the Kiawe honey is known amongst the world’s tastiest honeys. Firewood has always been one of kiawe’s most important products and that boils down to energy. In fact Kiawe’s dense high calorie wood burns clean making it a perfect candidate for gasification projects that produce energy from domestic sources with out the wasteful process of making coal. Whether for domestic bio-energy, reforestation or healthy food, kiawe is quickly rising to the top as one of the world’s future super crops destined to help the rural poor in places like South America, Africa and India. In Hawaii, staple perennial tree crops like Ulu, Kiawe and Niu can help protect our coast and form the basis of island food and energy security.
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