As you read this, we are traveling up the west coast of Africa, and are seeing plants we recognize from our gardens in Hawaii. For example, the popular Tree Bird of Paradise and Blue and Gold Bird of Paradise, Strelitzias are 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 are much like Southern California and Kula Maui, but as we travel northward along the coast, the vegetation and landscape becomes dryer to the point that there are mostly windblown sands in some areas. How much of this is due to human and animal impact is a question that comes to my mind. I look forward to getting closer to the equator where tropical forests reign.
Even if you don’t get out traveling much, you can still have the world in your garden! One of the best ways to see what’s new is to visit the annual BIAN Plant Show and Sale Friday and Saturday, March 7-8, at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium in Hilo. You will have a chance to visit with plant specialists from all over the island in one spot.
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. Maybe you can even specialize. There are fantastic numbers of 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” or to put it another way, “from Absyssinian cordia to Zombia.”
Thanks to palm lovers like 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 plant sale.
Ferns are a good example of a whole 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 probably the 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 over 30 feet in height. There are many ferns that 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 those 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 rainforest effect. They give that ultra tropical look that really makes a garden special. The most striking effect, by far, is created by the treefern types. We take our native hapu`u for granted but they are listed among the 800 plus species of treeferns considered threatened or endangered in the wild.
Bamboos are another group of plants people like 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 in height under ideal conditions. In a container, it will remain much smaller. This unusual bamboo is reminiscent of a many stemmed weeping willow with leaves 6 inches long and one eighth inch in width 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 well 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. If you really get into bamboos you will want to learn more so you can join the Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society.
Other plants groups you might look for are the vireyas, sometimes known as tropical rhododendrons. On the Big Island we also have a Vireya Society and Tropical Fruit Society. By the way, don’t forget orchids! And guess what? We have an orchid society as well. All these groups will help you expand your knowledge of horticulture. Be sure to check out the BIAN Plant Sale for these and other special plants.
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.