While the Hawaiians make leis and necklaces out of flowers, ti leaves and kukui nuts, there are thousands of natural products that world cultures use for beads and decoration. Here are two unusual ones—the first is blooming for the second time right now, the second bloomed for the first time early this last spring.
First, we have the revered Rudraksha tree (Eleocarpus ganitrus). Westerners call this the “blue marble tree,” but the name Rudraksha comes from Sanskrit. Rudra is an incarnation of the god Shiva, while aksha means eye. The name Shiva’s eye refers to the brilliant blue fruit it bears:
Hindus say each blue fruit represents a tear that Shiva sheds in compassion for the miseries of the world, referring to the founding legend of the plant: It is said Shiva committed himself to 1,000 years of meditation and when he was finished and opened his eyes for the first time, a single tear of bliss fell to the earth and from it this tree grew.
The fruit is fascinating. The blue around the rudraksha seed is the only color known in nature that is created through an act of structural refraction, and not pigment reflection. What does this mean? Well, normally when we look at a color, the pigment of that color is absorbing all the colors of the visible light spectrum and reflecting back to our eyes the single color we see.
The blue/violet iridescence on the rudraksha fruit is caused not by an act of reflection, but through the physical structure of the fruit pulp: it absorbs the visible light and refracts it, like a prism or a crystal, emitting a unique iridescent blue. This is why the color seems to shimmer and shift almost violet when you move it in the sunlight.
After the thin layer of blue fruit rots away, the gnarled rudraksha bead is revealed:
These beads are precious to hindus, and are often made into necklaces called malas, used for prayer (just like Western rosaries). Traditionally these necklaces are made with 108 beads (or a multiple of 108), an auspicious number in the Vedic scriptures. Indian Ayurvedic medicine believes that these seeds also have physical healing properties.
Some will soak the beads in water overnight and drink the resultant tonic the next day as a cure for a slew of different ailments. In the picture above, the necklace is made from a different, smaller variety of Rudraksha bead. These have been cleaned and polished, unlike the grey, larger seed from our own tree at the bottom of the image.
Our trees are still very young, but as they mature they will develop large buttress roots and aerial root structures. Here is a picture of the mature Rudraksha base taken in the old grove owned by the Hindu Monastery above Kapa’a.
Once ours get this long, we can kiss Lucinda’s picnic lawn goodbye!
Earlier this spring an equally stunning seed was produced for the first time by our Black Pearl Tree, also known as the Velvet Seedpod Tree (Majidea zanguebarica). This small tree has already produced a prolific number of its exotic seed pods.
These pods that are dull yellow brown on the exterior eventually burst open on the tree, exposing the luminescent seed nested in the shocking magenta of the open pod. Below, you can see the unopened pods on our delicate tree and then the ripe and open pods.
These seeds are true to their name and are covered with peach fuzz hairs, giving them a soft, velvet texture. This texture, paired with the hypnotic black shimmer makes these seeds a popular jewelry bead.
The empty seed pod is also useful: it is often employed as a potpourri filler after sprayed with the appropriate scent! In Eastern Africa, where this tree originates, it is known as the Mgambo