As you read this, we are traveling up the west coast of Africa and seeing plants we recognize from our gardens in Hawaii. The tree bird of paradise and blue and gold bird of paradise and strelitzias are all native to South Africa. Some of the strange succulents like the ice plant family, Aizoaceae, come from the deserts of Namibia. The climate of parts of South Africa is much like Southern California and Kula, Maui, but as we travel northward, the vegetation and landscape becomes so dry that it is mostly windblown sands in some areas. How much of this is because of human and animal impact is a question that comes to my mind as I look forward to getting closer to the equator’s tropical forests.
Even if you don’t travel much, you can have the world in your garden. One of the best ways to see what’s new is to visit the Big Island Association of Nurserymen Plant Show and Sale Friday and Saturday at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium in Hilo.
Spring is a perfect time to dress up your garden. If you are getting tired of the same old common plants in your garden, why not try something different. There are so many plant materials to choose from, but we seem to get in a rut with whatever we can “cockroach” from our neighbors. This year’s plant sale will offer new plants galore. There will be plants from A to Z — Absyssinian cordia to Zombia.
Thanks to palm lovers, including members of the Hawaii Island Palm Society, hundreds of new species are growing in Hawaii. Many of these are endangered in their native habitat so Hawaii is kind of a Noah’s Ark for palms. Of course, our native Pritchardias will also be available at the sale.
Ferns are a good example of a family of plants that are very poorly represented in our gardens. It’s not that they can’t be grown, but that we don’t. They require very little fertilizer but do require moisture and shade from intense sunlight. Our cooler mauka areas are best for growing ferns, but many types may be grown almost anywhere with protection.
We have hundreds of ferns native and introduced to Hawaii, but this is just a fraction of the more than 9,000 species found throughout the world. Members of the fern family vary from moss-like mini ferns to gigantic palm-like tree ferns more than 30 feet tall. Many ferns live attached to trunks and branches of trees like the native bird nest fern, Asplenium nidus-avis, and the staghorn ferns, Platycerium species. Most ferns prefer shady, moist locations, but some species will take full sun, so there is a spot in your garden for at least one or two types. A side benefit of ferns is that some are edible.
In the landscape, ferns give a lush rain forest effect that really makes a garden special. The most striking effect, by far, is created by the tree fern types. We take our native hapuu for granted but they are listed among more than 800 species of tree ferns considered threatened or endangered in the wild.
Bamboos are another group of plants people like to collect. Of course, you need plenty of room for the giant bamboos of Bali and Java, but there are many small, well mannered species ideally suited to the average garden or even grown in the container.
The hottest bamboo items in the trade now include the Mexican weeping bamboo, and clumping black bamboos. The scientific name is even beautiful once you learn to say it: Otatea aztecorum is a small clumping bamboo that grows from 8 to 15 feet tall under ideal conditions. In a container, it will remain much smaller. This unusual bamboo is reminiscent of a weeping willow with leaves 6 inches long and one-eighth inch wide, giving it a lacy look. The foliage masses bend nearly to the ground. A large clumping bamboo with similar weeping effect is the New Guinea sweet shoot bamboo, Nastus elatus. The clumping black bamboos include the Timor black and the giant hitam bamboo. The latter is new to Hawaii and quite pricey but worth it, if you have the room. It will reach 100 feet in height with culms 38 inches in circumference. Shoots are edible and it is great for construction.
You might also look for vireyas, sometimes known as tropical rhododendrons. On the Big Island we have vireya, orchid and tropical fruit societies. All these groups will help you expand your knowledge of horticulture.
Visit the plant sale to find these and other special plants.
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.