In the lead up to the 2017 Hawai‘i’s Wood Show, opening Sept. 23 at the Art School, we thought it was a good time to share this story about a museum tree.

In May, the museum removed a venerable kamani tree from Central Courtyard. Its roots, along with the mango tree next to it, were threatening the building’s integrity. When it was cut down, we found that two-thirds of the tree was rotted out, but there was still a lot of useable wood, which was milled on site by Craig Swedberg of Craig’s Creative Style. Some of it will be used to make benches for the museum, and some was offered to woodworkers affiliated with the Art School.

When offered the opportunity to participate in the on-site processing of the tree, sawmill owner and woodworker Bart Potter claimed a 42-inch section of the trunk and freehand cut it on-site with a chainsaw into quartersawn billets that he can later “resaw” on the horizontal bandsaw in his shop into dimensions dictated by application.

Working with the wood, he questioned whether the tree really was a kamani, or Calophyllum inophyllum, and found that others wondered the same thing. The leaves and blossoms looked similar, but the trunk form and bark were different. Once the tree was down, it was further evident that the wood was not the same as Hawai‘i kamani. There are about 270 other species in the genus Calophyllum around the world. Bart started doing research.

The Department of Agriculture tree that solved the kamani mystery for Bart Potter

The Department of Agriculture tree that solved the kamani mystery for Bart Potter

He delved into records of Hawai‘i tree plantings of the Calophyllum genus in the 19th and 20th centuries and found a few candidates, including representatives from Fiji and New Guinea, but no cigar. Then one morning as he was walking his dog on the grounds of the Hawai‘i State Department of Agriculture along Ke‘eaumoku Street between King and Young streets, “a tree reached out to me and hit me like a two-by-four,” he says. He examined the tree and found what he thought was an identical sister tree to the museum’s “kamani.” It’s on the City and County of Honolulu Exceptional Tree Register, so it sports a public sign, which reads: Mammea americana, or Mammee apple.

The label that confirmed the tree's identity

The label that confirmed the tree’s identity

The genera Mammea and Calophyllum are in the same Family, Calophyllaceae, which explains its resemblance to the kamani. Because of their near identical size and stature, it’s possible the DOA tree and the HoMA tree were planted with seed from a common tree at the same time.

The first M. americana was introduced to Hawai‘i in 1816 by Capt. Alexander Adams, who served King Kamehameha I and was rewarded for his service with 200 acres of Kalihi land, among other things. Adams was known for the many types of trees he planted there, including mammee apple.

The section that Bart cut is now stored under cover in his drying shed. Craig Swedberg slab-milled the remaining 10-foot-plus log of the main trunk and took it for seasoning. Woodworker Andy Cole salvaged additional wood for Honolulu Woodturners. As the mammee wood continues to dry and movement within the wood settles down, it will be assessed for possible uses.

Hawai‘i insider history note: Capt. Alexander Adams was an ancestor of the prominent Lucas family. Another gift Kamehameha I bestowed on him for his service was 2,000 acres in Niu Valley area, much of it still owned to this day by the Lucas family and their relatives. One of those descendants is Kaui Lucas, who is on the board of the Outdoor Circle (which gave its blessing to remove the trees from the museum’s Central Courtyard) and a history and genealogy buff. “She got a major kick out of this saga,” reports Bart.