The Importance and Meaning Behind Breadfruit

March 22, 2022

Breadfruit, or ‘ulu holds special meaning for the people of Hawaii. In ancient times, it not only provided food and medicine, but also wood for homebuilding. Here at Timbers Kaua‘i we commissioned a local artist to create a triptych of traditional ‘ulu quilt patterns to symbolize the three essential elements of Timbers Kaua’i – the gift of sun, flowing sea, and nurturing life. You could even say ‘ulu has become our family crest. So with all our hearts, we welcome your family to our family. 

As you may have read in our previous blog on Canoe Crops,‘ulu has been a staple in Hawaiian culture and diets for generations. Rich in nutrients and history, ‘ulu can be found at most potlucks when it is in season, and for good reason – it is delicious! This potato-like dish can be prepared in many ways, but its symbolism remains the same – a physical representation of sustainable living.

Breadfruit was brought to Hawai‘i via canoe by Polynesian voyagers and has made a home here in more ways than one. When settling in a new land, breadfruit provided a nutritious option for ancient Hawaiians to sustain themselves, as well as a fully-functioning tree that gave way to other necessary purposes. ‘Ulu became a cultural staple for ancient Hawaiian as a source of food and supplies. The breadfruit tree was an important source of wood for canoes, drums, surfboards, and building hales. The bark was used for clothing (kapa) and the sticky sap from the tree itself served its purpose for caulking, skin salve, and even chewing gum!

The Breadfruit Institute is using the knowledge acquired by more than 30 years of conserving and studying breadfruit to plant trees in tropical countries for food and reforestation, provide economic opportunity, and educate the public about the benefits of growing–and eating—this underutilized crop. Read what they have to say about the importance of ‘ulu in our ecosystem:

“Breadfruit trees provide food security, and contribute to diversified regenerative agriculture and agroforestry, improved soil conditions and watersheds, and valuable environmental benefits including reduction of CO2. They also give shelter and food to important plant pollinators and seed dispersers such as honeybees, birds, and fruit bats. In addition to health and environmental benefits, breadfruit trees can provide economic opportunities.”

In Hawaiian culture, representation and the naming of things and places holds a lot of weight. So, when we created a triptych representative of breadfruit, it was not done lightly. To create this crest as a representation of Timbers Kaua’i is to truly embrace the cultural significance of breadfruit in all things we do. We strive to do everything pono and respect the ‘āina by returning the mana tenfold with every decision we make as a company. You can learn more about the significance of our building names by watching our video interview with Hualani herself.