August is a blooming treat with flowering trees

  • Hybrid Rainbow Shower trees are among the most popular for home gardens, street and park landscapes. They flower over a long period and do not make messy seed pods. (Courtesy Photo/West Hawaii Today)

Summer is a great time to enjoy Hawaii’s flowering trees like the royal poinciana, tabebuia species, cassia shower trees, narra and many more. Speaking of narra, this beautiful yellow flowering tree from tropical Asia is rare but should be planted more. There is a beautiful specimen at Hale Anuhea in South Kona and another in the Lanihau shopping center by the old Bank of Hawaii site. The royal poinciana, Delonix regia, usually has flowers of crimson red to burnt orange. A rare form with yellow flowers is also available at some nurseries.

The many types of cassia or shower trees are on full display as well. The golden shower or Cassia fistula and the pink and white shower, Cassia javanica are spectacular but do have one draw back in that they have seedpods like the royal poinciana. However, the hybrids created by the two species are sterile, and flower more prolifically over a longer period with no seedpods. These are referred to as rainbow showers and are usually propagated by air layers or grafted on to golden shower rootstocks.


Our native wili wili, Erythrina sandwichensis, is in full bloom now and may be spotted with a sharp eye along the Mamalahoa highway driving from Kailua to Kamuela. If you want a guided tour on Aug. 6 to view the wili wili more intimately, you may contact the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative for details.

There was a time when forests covered much of the lands that are now grass, savanna and desert. Early Polynesians brought with them pigs, rats and jungle fowl that are the ancestors of modern day chickens. The impact on our endemic loulu palm forests was devastating, but with the introduction of grazing animals in the late 18th century, our forests really began to shrink. The vast koa forests once common are now mere remnants of their past glory. Now the threat of rapid ohia death fungus may further decimate our forests.

Luckily, some folks know the value of forests and windbreaks. Our progressive ranchers are planting some koa and valuable timber trees at higher elevations. Then there are groups like the Outdoor Circles, plant societies, youth groups and community clubs that are doing what they can to reforest.

Well-planned areas like the resorts of West Hawaii are literally being transformed from lava flows into tropical oases thus urban forestation. These are examples we can follow.

So how can we as individuals help beautify and make our environments more enjoyable? Nonprofit groups like Nature Conservancy and the recently formed Moku o Keawe are giving landowners the opportunity to protect our forests. For more information on how Moku o Keawe can help, contact Janet Britt, at 769-4343.

You don’t have to be a big landowner to add to the forests of our island. Even folks with small lots can help. By planting trees in our little pieces of paradise, we can actually change the microclimate and make our communities several degrees cooler in the summer. If you place your trees just right, you can even create a garden climate that is milder during cool, windy periods. It’s really interesting when you expand these basic principles. What happens when everyone in your neighborhood or community plants shade trees?

You can actually change the climate over fairly large areas. Foresters have research data that show reforestation may increase local rainfall and modify temperature extremes.

Now let’s look at the tree planting from another angle. Visitors bring millions of dollars to Hawaii each year. Our sunny winter skies are a big attraction. It used to be that our beaches and tropical woodlands were part of that appeal. Now with urban sprawl and rising ocean levels on some of our best beaches, our main salvation from endless asphalt alleys is abundant landscaping and protection of green open spaces.

Planting trees to give shade and beautify our communities isn’t the complete answer, but it can help. Shopping is miserable when streets are barren and parking lots are hot and uncomfortable. Hotels, restaurants and gas stations that are attractively landscaped with shade trees, shrubs and grass attract customers. Even grocery and department stores are finding that landscaping pays off.

In tree planting activities, remember, proper planting is important, as well as a knowledge of the tree’s requirements. Be sure to choose trees that fit the space in which they must grow. The rapid development of West Hawaii must include more efforts to landscape. Just imagine our new roads and highways shaded by spectacular trees like the royal poinciana or flamboyant. This tree from Madagascar was almost extinct in its native habitat, but thanks to its beauty, it has been spread to tropical regions around the world. Our state tree, the kukui, brought to Hawaii by the first Polynesians, should also be used more. Lets not forget the many endemic species of pritchardia or loulu. We need to use them in the landscape to assure their survival.

In some new developments, underground utilities are installed. This allows freedom from wires and poles. In such well-planned tracts, street side shade trees may be planted to minimize the negative impact of asphalt and concrete. There are many good books to help in choosing the right trees to plant. Sunset’s New Western Garden Book covers all the climate zones we have here even if one lives at sea level or at six thousand feet elevation.


In Hawaii, we have a wide variety of plants for beauty and as a food source for both humans and our wildlife. By keeping abundant vegetation as an integral part of our human communities, we actually find a constant healthy connection with our natural world.

For further assistance in tree selection and maintenance call the Master Gardener Helpline in Kona at 322-4893 or 981-5199 in Hilo.

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