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Roger G. Skolmen
Monkey-pod (Pithecellobium saman), samán in Spanish, is a fast-growing tree that has been introduced to many tropical countries throughout the world from its native habitats in Central America and northern South America. Although generally planted as a shade tree and ornamental, it has been naturalized in many countries and is greatly valued in pastures as shade for cattle. Short-boled, with a spreading crown when open grown, it forms a long, relatively straight stem when closely spaced. Its wood is highly valued in some locations for carvings and furniture (7).
The most widely used common name for the species is raintree, from the belief that the tree produces rain at night. The leaflets close up at night or when under heavy cloud cover, allowing rain to pass easily through the crown. This trait may contribute to the frequently observed fact that grass remains green under the trees in times of drought. However, the shading effect of the crown, the addition of nitrogen to the soil by decomposition of litter from this leguminous tree, and possibly, the sticky droppings of cicada insects in the trees all contribute to this phenomenon (3). The Hawaiian common name, monkey-pod, is used here because it is a logical derivation of the scientific name Pithecellobium (monkey earring in Greek). Besides monkey-pod, raintree, and saman, which is its name throughout Latin America, the tree is called mimosa in the Philippines.