Hawaii’s master gardeners are the Peace Corps of the tropical garden world

  • The living sculpture created by buttress roots of the Blue Marble tree make an ideal habitat for ferns in the Kona cloud forest. (Voltaire Moise/Special to West Hawaii Today)

When it comes to community outreach, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) Extension Service is comparable to the way Peace Corps reaches out to folks in other countries. The Master Gardener program is an important component of the CTAHR Extension Service. That program is set up to assist local folks with home gardening issues. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this service has been severely limited, but is again available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Kona Office in Kainaliu.

Hawaii is unique in its horticultural blend of plants and landscapes. Although we live in the tropics, gardening is heavily influenced by the ways of Europe and the Americas. This plus Asian, Polynesian and African agricultural influences have made landscaping and gardening fun but a bit complicated.


Fortunately, the CTAHR has been active in the development of the Master Gardener Program in Hawaii County. If you decide to get involved with the Master program you will have 45 hours of classroom and hands on horticultural training plus on going continuing education. Course topics include basic botany, native plants, nutrition, insect and disease management, propagation, pruning and much more. Once you finish the course you will become a local expert to assist others to be better gardeners. Master Gardeners also have several outings each year and get involved with community landscape projects.

Once we are back to normal times, Master gardening classes will be available. Registration for the class series will be hopefully announced this fall so keep in touch with our UH Extension agents in Hilo and Kona. The class series will include field trips like the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka where they will be planting native hibiscus and collecting seed of the famous blue marble, (Eleaocarpus grandis) trees used in the making of Buddhist prayer beads. It is closely related to our Hawaiian specie, Eleaocarpus bifidus or kalia. Hawaiians made cordage of the inner bark and used the branches in constructing pili grass houses according to Marie C. Neal’s book, “In Gardens Of Hawaii.”

The sanctuary is open to the public by appointment only. You can check out the website at konacloudforest.com or call 325-6440 to arrange a guided tour. The sanctuary is a 70-acre cloud forest dedicated to teaching living forest friendly and to remind folks that our forests are the lungs of the planet. Most of the land is native forest, but 15 acres that were originally pasture are now totally reforested with a variety of plants and trees donated by plant societies and Hawaii’s Department of Wildlife and Forestry. Once the aggressive Kikuyu grass was suppressed by shade, many native plants began to reestablish themselves.


Hawaii Island Land Trust and Moku Keawe Land Conservancy are cooperating in preserving the Sanctuary forest. For information on the latter, contact Debbie Hecht at (808) 989-3222 or Alex Kelepolo at (808) 315-3757. Another resource person is Janet Britt at (808) 769-4343 or email Janetbritt50@gmail.com. To learn more about the Master Gardener program in West Hawaii, contact Ty McDonald, UH Extension agent at (808) 322-4893 or by email at tym@hawaii.edu.

Other opportunities to learn and apply your horticultural knowledge is to join a plant society like the Hawaii Island Palm Society, Hawaii Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society or one of the many orchid societies. We also have societies and associations focusing on coffee, tea, nuts and tropical fruits. Information on getting in touch is available on line or by contacting the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources offices in Hilo and Kona. Getting connected with local plant enthusiasts is a great way to expand your knowledge with others of our Island community and make friends as well.

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