Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meet the Autograph Tree (or Looking at Graffiti on Trees at the Parking Lots of Home Depot and Costco on Maui)

Am I a flower or a fruit???

Meet the Autograph Tree (or Looking at Graffiti on Trees at the Parking Lots of Home Depot and Costco on Maui While My Husband is Shopping)

Kahului, Maui - Parking lots on Maui are not like parking lots in Kansas or Alabama… even the Home Depot parking lot can remind you you’re on Maui.

Today, I want to write a silly and fun post that has nothing to do with GMOs or contaminated water or other controversial issues on Maui.  While waiting for my husband at Home Depot in Kahului, I walked all around the parking lot.and became reacquainted with a very amusing tree, Clusia rosea, or the Autograph Tree.

The pretty flower of the Autograph Tree (Ok that must mean the star-shaped thing is NOT a flower.)

The green "fruit" of the Autograph Tree.

Originally from the West Indies, this is a popular tree grown all over parking lots on Maui. It’s definitely at the parking lots of Costco, Home Depot, and probably Wal-mart and Lowe’s as well. I don’t know why it’s such a popular tree for parking lots on Maui… maybe there is a blue light landscaping special for this tree.

Did Dr. Suess design this curvy, clumpy tree? It's not that tall - you can see the top of an SUV in the lower left corner.

With its quirky shape, this is a tree that Dr. Seuss would have invented. The leaves are flattish and glossy, and forgive me for not knowing the botanical terms for the leaves or the tree. Anyone who knows the appropriate terminology can certainly comment below.

Autograph Tree leaves - flattish, glossy, and sometimes heart-shaped.

The person who identified it for me was a nonresident who runs an amazing plant photo website,  I also found it in my A Pocket Guide to Hawai'i's Trees and Shrubs, but would never have figured it out on my own since there is only one picture of it.

Two things are highly notable about the autograph tree:

1 – It produces this amazing star shaped fruit… or maybe it’s a star-shaped husk with little red berries?, and it looks like a space alien creation. The husk/fruit doesn’t last for long, only a few days, and starts to curl over and get funky. It also looks very interesting flattened on the ground by cars although I didn’t take any pics of that.

The fruit??? I'm thinking that's the red stuff in the center?
 If the star-shaped thing could talk, it might say "Ah, beam me up Scotty!" and "Take me to your leader!"
The husk of the autograph tree, all curled up.

2. You can autograph this tree, hence the name. The bark can be scratched on, apparently with just a sharp stick, and then when the tree heals over, the autograph is permanent.  I did not feel like trying this myself, but found some creative tree graffiti around both parking lots of Home Depot and later, Costco.  You can literally scratch the bark and leave your mark. Ok, that’s my one goofy rhyme for the day.  I didn’t actually feel compelled to autograph the autograph tree, but it was fun to look around. I’m not also suggesting that you go out and scratch these trees, but a lot of local kids do.

This graffiti or autograph was found at the
Home Depot parking lot in Kahului.
This autograph was found at the Costco parking lot on Maui.
"Dan" obviously spent a lot of time working on it.

Another Costco autograph.

A heart-shaped autograph, also found in Costco's parking lot.

Autograph trees are not only found around parking lots. They grow along beaches, although I haven’t noticed any. They are also found on the other islands, at least in the parking lots of the Home Depot and Costco. My pocket guide says that they create “especially dense thickets” along the north shore of Kauai. I even lived on Kauai for a year, but didn’t notice these trees.  If you have a Maui jungalow close to the ocean, this would be a fun tree to plant.

Thank you to Alina Rhoades for contributing the first guest blog post ever, on the Upcountry Sustainability’s invasive species meeting!  If anyone else wants to contribute a guest blog post, please comment below.


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