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Plant of the Month: Moringa an outstanding choice for a xeriscape garden

September 3, 2017 - 12:05am

The tropical tree, Moringa oleifera deserves an update as we experience increasingly dry weather in Hawaii. The welcome rains in the last few weeks, cannot mitigate the long-term drought that we are experiencing. Gardeners are starting to replace thirsty grass and plants with rocky landscape designs containing drought tolerant species like cactus and succulents. Small to medium sized drought tolerant trees also need to be considered in these xeriscape gardens to provide some shade and height variety.

Many native Hawaiian trees qualify as drought tolerant since they are accustomed to surviving long periods of dry weather. Ohia, hoawa, alahee and kou, as well as wiliwili, are a few of the more popular ones that should be easy to find locally. Some introduced specimens with multiple uses also qualify as drought tolerant. Consider the fragrant plumeria, the edible pomegranate or the large and gorgeous jacaranda if you are looking for drought tolerance.

Moringa’s multiple uses, however, make it an outstanding choice for a xeriscape garden. In Kona, it will grow best at locations below 1,200 feet in elevation and away from salt spray or strong winds, which can break its brittle branches. Moringa trees are often used as living fence posts and can serve as windbreaks when kept at about 5 feet high encouraging strong lateral growth. Those grown from seed are better windbreaks since they develop a long and strong tap root.

Moringa oleifera has many common names throughout the world. It is in the Moringaceae family which is also known as the Horseradish-tree family.

It is sometimes referred to as the horseradish tree since the roots are used in place of horseradish in some countries. Moringa is also known as the drumstick tree, based on the size and shape of the pod it produces. The pods are edible when young and green. Peeled and steamed or cooked in curries or stews they offer good nutrition, as well as a flavor reminiscent of string beans, okra or asparagus.

The fresh leaves are very high in protein, essential amino acids, potassium and calcium as well as vitamins A and C. People from many cultures use the leaves to flavor curries or eat them fresh in salads. Because of their high nutritional value, the leaves are often dried and sold commercially in powder form.

Dried moringa seeds are useful for propagating new trees but they can also be pressed to produce high quality oil for cooking or lubricating. The useful oil lends credence to the name ben oil tree. Some extraction techniques as well as lots of information about Moringa oleifera can be found in “Specialty Crops for Pacific Islands,” edited by Craig Elevitch. The chapter on moringa by Ted Radovich can be downloaded at

The bark of the moringa tree is also useful. It contains fiber that can be used in making mats, paper or cordage and the sap is used as a blue dye. Moringa trees also produce clusters of small cream-colored flowers year round that are slightly fragrant and used to make tea. In its native habitat, which includes the dry areas of India and Pakistan, moringas are referred to as the miracle tree of life since every part of the plant offers culinary, medicinal or cultural uses. Information on additional uses for moringa trees and products can be found online.

In addition to their drought tolerance and many uses, moringa trees are also attractive specimens to include in a small landscape. They have a graceful slender growth habit with lots of small dark green compound leaves growing from drooping branches. The delicate foliage provides light shade and adds a lacey texture to the garden.

Moringa trees can be grown from seeds or cuttings. When dried, the pods contain round, brown seeds with white wings. Planting them in moist potting soil should produce seedlings in about two weeks that will grow rapidly. Woody or semi-woody cuttings that are a year old and at least 10 inches long should also grow well. Place them in moist, not wet, soil and they should begin producing new leaves shortly.

Once cuttings or seedlings are putting out new leaves they can be planted in a hot sunny location in your garden wherever the soil drains well. They can survive on very little water once established.

Moringa products are advertised on line and some are available locally. Fresh moringa leaves are available locally at Sack n Save in the Lanihau Shopping Center. Though Kona Moringa is currently undergoing some changes, you can contact them at to see if they have plants or products for sale. Moringa Farms in California sells moringa powder and oil and a moringa recipe book. Go to to see what they have.

If you want to grow your own moringa tree, you can start with seeds from the Community Seed Library, which is housed in the Kailua-Kona Public Library. The CSL offers free seeds of many different plants including moringa. If you want to buy a tree, try Tropical Edibles Nursery in Captain Cook. They currently have several moringa seedlings in stock. Contact them at 328-0420 or to hold one for you. You might find moringa trees at other local nurseries or garden centers. Call around to see who has them.

The many uses and benefits a moringa tree can provide will hopefully encourage local gardeners to try to grow them and use their products. Growers will be delighted with how fast moringa grows on little to no water, once established. Try one in your garden, you’ll probably like it.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Tuesday: Tuesday: “Kau Coffee Growers Cooperative Monthly Meeting” from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pahala Community Center, 96-1149 Kamani St., in Pahala

Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brownbag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: “Sunset Farmers Market,” 2-6 p.m. in the HPM parking lot at 74-5511 Luhia Street in Kailua-Kona (across fromTarget)

Wednesday &Friday: “Hooulu Farmers Market,” 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay

Friday: “Pure Kona Market,” 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market,” 8 a.m.-noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

“Kamuela Farmers Market,” 7 a.m. -noon at Pukalani Stables

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market,” 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

Tuesday-Saturday: “U-Pick greens and produce,” 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Tropical Edibles Nursery in Captain Cook.

Plant Advice Lines


Tuesdays &Thursdays: 9 a.m.-noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu at 322-4892

Mondays, Tuesdays &Fridays: 9 a.m.-noon at UH-CES at Komohana in Hilo at 981-5199 or

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