Like its cousin, the kalo or taro (Colocasia esculenta), its rootstock is rich in starch and requires long cooking with many water changes. It was used as famine food by the Hawaiians, who favored the better-tasting, water-loving kalo. In other parts of the tropical world, 'ape is a staple food.
The Hawaiians grew 'ape in small patches in the upland areas. Often they planted 'ape near a gate or fence, believing that the irritating sap of the leaves would ward off evil spirits. Leaves were sometimes placed under the sleeping mats of the sick or wrapped around the body for the same reason. However, the plants were not planted near the house because it was believed the residents might become ill as a result.
'Ape was used for medicine as well. The very large, heart-shaped leaves that can grow to 2-1/2 by 4 feet long were useful for inducing sweat in fever victims. The patient was wrapped in the fleshy leaves, which encouraged sweating. Sometimes it was used on wounds to promote healing and it was said to relieve pain from nettle stings and rashes. The root was sometimes pounded and used as part of a remedy for severe burns.
The first generation of 'ape plants started out quite small. They did grow well and I was able to explore how to best harvest and dry the plant stems to produce various effects in the textures and colors of the materials I used for my fiber sculptures.
The material was less rigid than the banana bark and became quite malleable, turning leathery as I plastered glue all over it. A whole other dimension became available for me to explore in my work.
By timing my harvesting and experimenting with assorted ways for cutting and drying the materials, I found I could produce varying colors and assorted special effects in the materials which enhanced the fiber sculptures I made.
One of the 'ape plants in my first collection actually produced a truly beautiful flower. Eventually these first-generation plants became pot-bound, overrunning their pots with keiki, offshoots from the sturdy corms.
I have repotted the most sturdy corms into new, bigger pots, and am letting them grow up again. These second-generation plants are getting quite large now, and the stems I can harvest are longer and wider. The plants are thriving.
I tried scattering the leftover corms into the forest around us. I had visions of patches of 'ape springing up along the roadside and in the wilds of the valley below my ridge house. They didn't take. I suspect the feral pigs that are running wild through the forest got to them.