The tree known in Hawaii as kamani has a broad distribution throughout southern Asia and Africa, and it has many other names; its scientific name is Calophyllum inophyllum, and three of its more well-known names are tamanu, poon and Alexandrian laurel. People who live in areas in which this tree is native often consider it sacred, and it has many medicinal uses. Hawaiians traditionally use the wood for home construction, decorative crafts and containers.
The Kamani Tree
Kamani is a Hawaiian name, but Calophyllum inophyllum is not indigenous to Hawaii -- it was introduced by Polynesian settlers. It's a member of the mangosteen family, and it grows near sandy beaches and other lowland areas that have ample sunlight. It grows slowly, can attain a height of 18 meters (60 feet) or more and has a dense foliage consisting of large, stiff leaves. This tree is known throughout its native habitat for its fragrant fruit, which turns poisonous as it ripens and produces a thick oil used to -- among other things -- soothe skin irritations and provide relief from insect bites.
A Good Material for Canoes
Kamani isn't used widely enough to be included on most Janka hardness charts, so it's difficult to gauge its hardness with respect to other wood species, but it's variously described as strong, durable and medium hard. It has a specific gravity of between 0.597 to 0.647, making it a little more than half as dense as water, and unlike many tropical hardwoods with specific gravities greater than 1, kamani wood readily floats. That fact is one probable reason for its popularity as a raw material for canoes among the Hawaiians.
Not the Ideal Raw Material
The red and white colors of kamani wood turn reddish brown as the wood ages, and the close, interlocking grain allows craftspeople and woodworkers to produce attractive products. The wood is relatively rare, however, because the tree grows so slowly, and it isn't the ideal raw material. The interlocking grain gives the wood a wooly appearance when it is fresh cut, and the complex grain makes it somewhat difficult to work. In Hawaii, as in some countries in southeast Asia, kamani is often fashioned into plates, bowls and utensils because it imparts no woody taste or odor to food.
Fun Facts About Kamani
Kamani is an attractive ornamental tree and is usually planted for that purpose -- not for its timber. It produces a prolific number of fruits, and although these turn poisonous as they ripen, the oil derived from them is considered a valuable skin salve. Thus, the oil is prized as much in Hawaii -- for such purposes as lomi lomi massage -- as it is in other parts of the world, where it is known as tumanu or domba oil. The bark has been used to shingle roofs in some locales, and the latex that flows under the bark can be turned into a poison to kill rodents and stun fish.