Canary Islands give new view of Hawaii


We are now in the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa. These islands share many similarities with Hawaii, but are also quite different.

The Canary Islands are off the west coast of Morocco, and just outside the tropics. The climate is warmer than coastal Southern California, but cooler than along the coast in Hawaii. Some of the drier mountainous areas in West Hawaii or on Maui are similar to those on Tenerife. The main island of Tenerife is heavily developed for tourism, much like Oahu in the 1950s, but has large areas of agricultural and forested lands. Unlike Oahu, it has a massive volcano more than 10,000 feet high and large areas of scorched volcanic lands, similar to those around Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The Canary Islands, like Hawaii are on a hot spot; several of the seven islands are still growing. In fact, volcanologists are concerned with present activity on the 108-square-mile island of Hierro where around 10,000 folks live.

There have been nearly 9,000 tremors in the past two months. They fear that eruptions could cause a mega-tsunami seriously affecting the U.S. East Coast. The last eruption in the islands was on La Palma in 1971.

Tourism is the big industry. Prior to World War II, the islands were poor with folks leaving for better lives. Today the opposite is true, especially on Tenerife. The other islands in the group are less developed and quite rural.

We are on Tenerife to study the Canary Island date palm. This palm can now be found growing all over the tropical and subtropical world. It is common in California and can be seen as far north as southwestern Oregon. The palm grows up to 80 feet tall and looks like the common date palm on steroids.

Although we were impressed with the thousands of Canary Island date palms used in the landscape, we have seen more than 50 other species of palms used to beautify gardens. Every garden is full of flowers and nicely maintained. In Hawaii, we can learn to do more with our gardens by seeing what others are doing elsewhere.

So when you take a close look at your garden, neighborhood and community, remember that proper maintenance is a key factor. Spend some time redesigning the landscape where necessary, but never forget to take loving care of what you have created.

A list of the popular garden annuals of today reads like a page from the past. Coleus, begonias, impatiens and geraniums have always added quick color, but when you start talking varieties, they are as modern as today.

New coleus plants, for instance, are a far cry from the tall, spindly, dull coleus most of us remember. Breeders have developed varieties with improved form and a wide range of color combinations that add color and texture to shady areas.

Grandmother’s begonias, too, left something to be desired. Today, fibrous-rooted begonias have come out of hiding. Originally a shade-loving plant, they can now be grown in sun as well as shade.

As for impatiens, today’s large-flowered, compact hybrid varieties are giving petunias a run for their money as the leading flowering annual across the country.

With the advent of hybrid geraniums, you can expect this popular Mother’s Day and Memorial Day plant to emerge as a true garden perennial, performing well, even through the heat of summer and cool of winter. Available as small plants in packs, they can be used in mass plantings without straining the budget.

Still the leading flowering annual for dry conditions, petunias are one of the most versatile and colorful plants available to the average gardener.

Annuals have added color to our gardens for generations, but in Hawaii, we are not limited to these alone.

For us, the sky is the limit. One thing we notice in the Canary Islands is the use of bromeliads. Often used as air plants, bromeliads may be a tropical substitute for flowering annuals. On the mainland, interest in bromeliads has been limited to houseplant or interior garden use. In Hawaii, they grow easily outdoors. Many of them are more colorful than orchids and their leaves and plant forms are interesting at all times.

There are hundreds of different kinds of bromeliads. The pineapple plant is the most common bromeliad in Hawaii. Bromeliads are tropical plants, but most of those in cultivation can withstand more extremes than orchids. Many bromeliads do best when grown in filtered light, but some varieties may take full sun. When grown in containers they are potted much like epiphytic orchids. They must not be overwatered or the roots and the tip of the plant will decay.

Except for very large plants, nursery workers like to pot them in small pots, half filled with coarse cinder. These small containers are in turn placed in larger containers so that the top-heavy plants can stand alone. Both feeding and watering are done mainly through the foliage rather than through the roots, but these plants don’t require much of either. The leaves hold water and plants should be potted so that they stand straight up, or nearly so. Fill the crown with water until it runs over. Fertilize once a month with an organic fertilizer that can be used for orchids.

Learning about bromeliads and how to grow them is much easier than growing most annuals. In fact, many types can be attached to trees or grown on the ground in mulch with about as little care as cactus in Arizona. Used as houseplants, attached to trees, or grown as colorful bedding plants, they are plants you can enjoy for years to come when they are properly maintained.

For further information on gardening, contact any University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture Extension Office.