I mentioned Albizia saman in last week's post about Asplenium and then promised to comment more on this lovely tree in the future. Well, that time is now.
First of all, what a beauty, eh? I am *in love* with the elegant, almost overreaching canopy. The form is so striking and, as common as this tree is in Oahu, I think I will always equate monkey pod tree with my wanderings on this trip.
Not that Albizia saman is native to the Hawaiian islands, it's instead native to Central and South America, distributed between Mexico and Brazil. Indeed, due to the region's geologic history, Hawaii is fairly sparse in terms of native plants. More often that not, the plants that are most popular here are native to other areas and were planted by colonists or passers-through. (Somewhat relevant to this information, in last week's post about breadfruit my friend Matthew asked if Artocarpus was endemic to Hawaii and it's not. It's native to the Malay peninsula and the surrounding islands.)
Here above is another shot of the tree pictured at the top of this post. You can gauge from the Monstera leaves below how big this trunk is. I'd say its diameter was probably around 9-10'. A woman at the Waimea Botanical Garden says the arborists speculate this specimen is over 200 years old. In that case it is quite like the "Samán de Güere" a Venezuelan national treasure and landmark. That specimen was originally recorded by Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist and one of the founders of biogeography, in his trip to South America between 1799 and 1804. You can see an old print of this Venezuelan icon here. Unfortunately, there's scant information about this tree online, in English (and my Spanish is pretty shoddy these days).
I know I'm quite smitten with a new species when I have a ton of photos of the feature I like so much (in this case, the branching habit) and one cursory shot of another key characteristic (in this case, the leaves). In fact, I was relieved to find I had even one picture of the species' pinnately compound leaves. Knowing that the leaves are pinnately compound, you could hazard a guess that Albizia is a member of the pea or legume family, and you'd be right. Technically these days, you'd say it is a member of the Fabaceae family, though Leguminosae is still commonly used and considered acceptable. In either case, Fabaceae trees have similar leaves and pea-pod like fruits. Other species of this family which we have previously discussed are Gleditsia, Robinia, Sophora, Lupinus, Cercis and Cladrastis.
Finally, on a very unscientific note, every time I look at this photo, I can hear Meryl Streep saying in her Danish accent "I had a farm in Africa." Indeed, monkey pod tree is related to Albizia amara, a tree that is found in the dry scrublands between Sudan and South Africa.