Because of the beauty of its grain and the ease with which it can be cut and carved, true Kou is one of the best timber trees in Hawai'i.
The wood of Kou is long-lasting with little shrinkage, medium-fine texture and the medium density. Therefore, large and stable vessels can be made from this wood essence. These were usually carved by the same men who made the wa'a, the canoes. These men knew how to season and how to gracefully shape the woods they used for the best and most practical purposes, and how to finish them so that a fine patina was achieved and their beauty would endure. Because of the good workability of Kou, it is fashioned into 'umeke la'au, containers of wood, crafted with great skill, as well as being aesthetically pleasing. 'Umeke kou, food bowls, and specifically poi bowls called 'umeke 'ai, platters called pa kou, cupps and serving dishes of kou were all preferred, because there is no unpleasant taste in the sap that would flavor food. Also made from Kou wood were canoes, paddles, back scratchers, calabashes and boxes, fish hooks, containers and other carved objects, such as images of deities.
Because of its thick wide crown of leaves, Kou was a favorite shade tree near home sites. Beneath its cool shelter, the women beat the kapa cloth or would string lei made also from the beautiful orange-red flowers of Kou, as they shared the day together.
In the old days Kou leaves were used to make a brown dye that was applied in designs on kapa. It is said that banyan (ficus) fruit was added to Kou leaves to make a fine red dye for tapa cloth.
(Krauss, B. H. 1993. Plants in Hawaiian Culture.)
(Kepler, A. K. 1998. Hawaiian Heritage Plants.)
(Information for this species compiled and recorded by Camelia Cirnaru, NTBG Consultant.)