Although “ti” is pronounced like “tea,“ you won’t find it inside a cup in Hawaii. The broad, flat leaves have many uses, from decoration to clothing to food preparation. At a recent social function, they were used both as table centerpieces and to sprinkle water in the blessing of boats.

The combination of practical and spiritual uses has a long tradition. Ancient Hawaiians used the large leaves for “roof thatching, wrappings for cooking food, plates, cups, fishing lures on hukilau nets, woven into sandals, hula skirts, leis and rain capes.” ( It was also considered sacred to the god Lono (associated with agriculture and peace) and goddess Laka (associated with hula and forest), who were married to each other.

A website created by a Kamehameha Middle School Koa team lists these for ti:

“* Very spiritual: it is believed that Lono would take the form of the ti plant and watch over the workers in the field and make sure they were safe
* Hula dancers would wear ti leaf skirts because the leaves of the plant was the symbol of the goddess Laka
* If you were to plant the trees around your hale Lono would make sure that no evil spirits would enter your house
* The Hawaiians would lay the leaves and stem of the plant on the structures in his heiau to show him that they appreciate him”

The scientific name for ti is Cordyline terminalis. There are 20 different types of ti, in a variety of colors. It was brought to Hawaii by Polynesian voyagers. In addition to clothing and spirituality, they used the plant for a variety of medicinal purposes. The roots could be baked and eaten or boiled into a liquor.

So, I guess it is possible to brew the roots into an alcoholic beverage, which you could serve in a cup made of the leaves. Now, that’s my cup of ti!


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