It may be difficult for the casual observer to identify trees by their appearance (it’s easier if they grow fruit.) But in the case of the sausage tree in Hawaii, it’s hard to be mistaken.

The distinctive brown lobes hang from the tree in great abundance. This tree is on the UH campus at Manoa, but there are others on Oahu and the other islands of Hawaii. The tree is native to tropical West Africa. Its proper name is Kigelia Africana, it is a cousin of the Calabash Tree (both are members of the Bignonia family of flowering plants.)

While the fruit is eaten by many animals, the fresh fruit is poisonous to humans. It may be dried, roasted – or fermented. According to Wikipedia, an alcoholic beverage similar to beer is made from the fruit of the sausage tree. The fruit is used in African herbal medicine as a treatment for a variety of illnesses and apparently in skin care products.

The tree has beautiful flowers that open at night and attract bats, who pollinate them. According to the Honolulu zoo, the bat is considered to be Hawaii’s only native land mammal. Bats are common on the islands of Hawaii, Kauai and Maui but only rarely seen on Oahu. The Hawaiian Hoary Bat is an endangered species and federally-funded research on the bat is ongoing on the Big Island.

Given the scarcity of bats, I’m not sure how this sausage tree is pollinated but it seems very productive. Sausage trees are often planted as ornamental trees in tropical regions because the flowers are pretty and the fruit is so unusual. I don’t often quote Wikipedia, but I have to repeat this caution, “Planting sites should be selected carefully, as the falling fruit can cause serious injury to people, and damage vehicles under the trees.”

I will refrain from any further comment about things that fall from trees in Hawaii. Feel free to insert your own joke here.

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