Often found in old Hawaiian coastal village sites, kou has beautifully grained wood and smooth, round leaves, which are used to make a brown dye. Most of the traditional ʻumeke bowls are made of the wood of the kou tree. It is a favorite for food containers because it does not affect the flavor of the meal due to its low acid level (unlike koa).
Kou is widely known as a Polynesian Introduced plant, however, recent evidence of Kou pre-dating settlement was found on Kauaʻi.
Kou is an evergreen tree that can grow to about 30 feet high and is found on seashores from East Africa to Polynesia. Its delicate, orange flowers are scentless but make a full and vibrant lei. Because of the beauty of its grain and the ease with which it can be cut and carved, kou is one of the best timber trees in Hawaiʻi. Its soft but durable wood is perfect for cups, dishes, and calabashes. It is also a favorite shade tree around houses and the seashore.