By Norman Bezona
U.H. College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
Next Sunday is a great opportunity to buy some rare palms as well as other rare plants at the annual big plant sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens outside Hilo.
The zoo also has plantings of many palms, bamboos and tropical rhododendrons so that you can see what these plants will do in your garden. It is also an opportunity to meet folks who are experts in the plant world.
According to Tim Brian, president of the Hawaii Island Chapter of the International Palm Society, they will have a booth to distribute membership information, answer your palm gardening questions and give away rare palm seeds. For folks who do not live in the Hilo area, it is a fine time to take a tour of the island and visit our Panaewa zoo. For a little island in the middle of the tropical Pacific, we are very fortunate to have this outstanding educational resource.
While on the subject of palms, the International Palm Society is having the biennial meeting in May 2014 in Miami, Fla. Anyone involved in the landscape and nursery industry should consider this opportunity. Tours associated with the meeting are not finalized as yet, but it looks like Trinidad and Tobago are likely.
A palm tour of Cuba is also considered if the Beyonce-JZ issue doesn’t complicate travel plans. Actually, educational tours there are permitted at this time and should be no problem. Voltaire Moise and I have looked into the Cuba possibility and were impressed with the hospitality of folks there as well as the unique experiences afforded. We will be traveling to Trinidad in two weeks to make tentative arrangements for next year’s tour as well.
Trinidad and Tobago are the farthest south of the chain of islands that stretch from Cuba to South America. Trinidad is only 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela at the mouth of the Orinoco River. There is an amazing diversity of plant and animal life that includes hundreds of species of birds like parrots, flamingoes, spoonbills, egrets, herons, hummingbirds and vultures just to mention a few.
One experience from my last trip I will never forget was the sunset flight of roseate spoonbills returning to roost in the coastal mangroves. There were thousands of them literally turning the sky and mangrove trees brilliant pink with their numbers. These are the kinds of experiences that the International Palm Society affords its members.
Traveling to Florida and the Caribbean will also give palm enthusiasts the chance to see the effect of Lethal Yellowing. This is a devastating disease of coconut palms and many other species as well. We are fortunate to have few diseases and pests of palms in Hawaii. The Department of Agriculture is always on the alert for pests and diseases like Lethal Yellowing.
In the last half of the 20th century, this disease killed most coconut and other susceptible palms in Florida and many other areas of the Caribbean. We have been hearing a lot about a possible threat to Hawaii’s palms, as well as other tropical and subtropical regions. There are also several insect pests we must be on guard to keep out of Hawaii.
We do have other palm problems. On checking it out, most of the reports end up being palms with nutrient deficiencies, drought stress and poor pruning practices. Severe pruning practices in which too many leaves are removed can actually weaken palms and shorten their lives. This, combined with water stress, is killing the trees. So far, we have not found one case of Lethal Yellowing disease in Hawaii and hope that continued vigilance on the part of the Department of Agriculture and Hawaii’s citizens will ensure our freedom from this devastating plague.
There are approximately 5,000 species of palms in the world. Among the most economically important are the Coconut, Date, Sago, African Oil, Acai, Peach and Borassus palms just to mention a few. In Hawaii, there are hundreds of palms species mostly used for landscaping, but a relatively young agricultural crop in East Hawaii is the Peach Palm grown for fresh edible hearts.
Hawaii’s palms may be affected by bud rot or stem bleeding disease which is often caused by physical damage such as unsanitary pruning equipment or climbing spikes. Most palms showing yellow or stunted growth have been found to be suffering from lack of fertilizer or water. The trees simply need a balanced fertilizer plus minor elements, applied 3 to 4 times per year, and regular irrigation. All these problems are correctable, but if Lethal Yellowing ever gets in Hawaii, there’s no practical way of stopping destruction of our island’s palms. Not only would the coconut palm be destroyed, but over a hundred species of native and exotic palms would also die.
What is the threat to Hawaii of devastating insect pests and diseases? Transporting plants, especially palms from affected areas, could introduce the disease. It is essential to work with the Department of Agriculture and Plant Quarantine folks to have all imported plants inspected. Above all, do not smuggle in plants. This is how we got the spiraling whitefly, banana bunchy top disease and many other serious pests. A new insect found in California is the Red Palm Weevil. We do not want it here!
Be sure to follow the rules and regulations developed to protect our Islands. Also be aware that there are very stiff fines for bringing plants or animals into the Islands without the proper permits and inspection.
If you are interested in learning more about palms, contact the Hawaii Island Chapter of the International Palm Society. President Tim Brian may be contacted at 333-5626. For membership, call Grace Kissell at 963-6707. And be sure to meet Hawaii’s palm lovers at the Pana‘ewa Zoo Plant Sale!
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. For further information, contact the office near you.