Ti (or “ki“ in the Hawaiian pronunciation) is one of the most versatile plants in Hawaii. This plant was brought to Hawaii by early Polynesian settlers who knew of its many uses. The most useful part is the leaf. Ti leaves are a foot or two long and about four inches wide. They have a firm stem or bone that runs through the middle of the leaf.
In Hawaiian culture the ti leaf is associated with the hula and its goddess, Laka. Ti leaves were also used in rituals to invoke the god Lono and to ward away evil. Even today in Hawaii you will see new ventures such as buildings or equipment bless by a kahuna holding ti.
The leaves were also used for clothing. Ti can be fashioned into a skirt for hula or a cape worn on the shoulders. Children are known to create a makeshift sled for going down grassy hills. The leaves naturally shed water when fresh.
The roots of the ti plant are tuberous and can be baked for eating or fermented into a beverage.
The scientific name is Cordyline terminalis or fruticosa. The plant thrives with just a little sun and is a common site both when hiking in Hawaii or in landscaping. The can be grown by rooting the leaves or from the rhizomes in the ground. The plant does produce a flower and small fruit though it is mostly prized for its leaves.
How to Make a Ti Leaf Lei
There are two types of basic ti leaf leis you can make. These are the braided or hilihili style or the maile style. Maile style ti leaf leis are often worn by men in weddings and are less expensive than true maile leis.
To begin you will need enough leaves to make each lei. For braided leis have about six or eight on hand. Have about ten for maile style as you need to join the leaves with inserts. Note that we have ti leaves for sale on our site. To work with the leaves you will need to trim out the spine and freeze them overnight. You might want to have some extra leaves on hand in case of accidental tearing when you work.
You can also add a strand of orchids or tuberose to the maile style lei as well as a few orchid blossoms to the braided style.
Here is a good article on making ti leaf leis as well as a video from YouTube.
How to Make Hawaiian Laulau
Laulau are a savory dish made with meat and seasonings tied or wrapped in ti leaves. The laulau are usually steamed for several hours. Contents are typically fish, pork or chicken lightly salted. Popular fish include ahi or butterfish.
Some on line recipes may call for taro (kalo) leaves from the plant whose roots are used to make poi. But we find ti leaf works just as well.