Kukui Nut Tree

Aleurites moluccana

Hawaii’s State Tree

In 1959, the state of Hawaii recognized the many uses and cultural significance of the kukui tree, known elsewhere as the candlenut tree, by naming it the official state tree. These trees were one of many Polynesian introductions to the islands and thus were not a native tree. The most famous use for the tree and the source for its common name is its application as a fuel source. It also has many other uses such as an emollient, ink for tattoos, and as a poultice for headaches.

General Description

Kukui trees are easily identified on the slopes of Hawaiian mountains as they have very light, silvery-green foliage. From a distance, they stick out against the much darker green foliage of the other trees. The trees may reach 80 feet high. Leaf shape varies greatly but can be anywhere from rounded (ovate) to having three (trilobed) or five lobes. Leaves are generally four to eight inches long. A small green fruit surrounds the internal nuts.


The original distribution of the candlenut tree is difficult to pinpoint as it was spread by humans across the Pacific Ocean. The tree is commonly used in Indonesia, throughout Polynesia, and Japan.

Can you eat Candlenut seeds?

Its not recommended to actually eat the raw seeds of a candlenut tree. The seeds have laxative properties, and the oil is an irritant. However, in Indonesian and Malaysian dishes, the seeds are used to make a thick sauce eaten with vegetables and rice.

Burning Candlenut seeds for light

The name Candlenut comes from the fact that the seeds of this tree have an extremely high oil content. In fact, its high enough that you can light a nut and use it to provide light. In Ancient Hawaii, the nuts were strung along the midrib of a coconut palm frond, lit and burnt one at a time. Each nut burns for about 15 minutes, and Hawaiians would use the duration of one burn to tell time. For instance, one might give instructions to be back when the second nut had burnt out.

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Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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