May Day in Hawaii is Lei Day as well. We celebrate Lei Day on May 1, but continue with leis throughout the year. Now there is also a noticeable spring fever effect when it comes to local gardeners, because many flowers start heavy blooming at this time.
“April showers bring May flowers” is an old adage and it holds true in many parts of Hawaii as well. With longer days, most folks are getting chronic Hawaiian spring fever. This means being close to nature with plants.
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.
Spring in Kona’s unique tropical cloud forests and East Hawaii’s rainforests is heralded by abundant new growth of ferns, especially our endemic cibotium treeferns. If you want to get a sense of what life was like during the time of the dinosaurs, visit the Kona Cloud Forest above Kailua. The area abounds with ferns that once were dominant millions of years ago.
Spring officially occurs when the sun reaches the equator as it appears to move northward. Of course, what is actually happening is that the earth is tilting toward the South Pole and will continue to do so until June 20. Then it is officially summer. Since we are roughly at latitude 19 degrees north, the sun will appear to move northward for a short time and then move toward the south until Dec. 21. Many plants respond to day length including plants that form bulbs.
The old saying that March comes like a lion and leaves like a lamb usually holds true but this year only time will tell. Spring flowering trees are on schedule like the cherry blossoms of Waimea. The annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival is not be happening this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the trees are still creating a great show. Check them out soon before they disappear for another year. As they begin to fade, blue jacaranda, silver oak and ohia will begin to brighten the landscape.
Hawaiian landscapes certainly have enough lava rock but may be lacking in water elements like streams, ponds, lakes and ocean frontage. In many other parts of the world, rock and water elements are used in the landscape to create a natural feeling and add interest to the design. Balinese gardens usually include not only naturalistic forms, but often, sculptured elements as well. In Japan the stone water basins that stand outside the teahouses are an example of rock and water used on a small scale. In almost any garden, the gentle sound and sight of water running over cool stones is refreshing.
Phenax hirtus is a tropical shrub from Central America that will grow rapidly to 15 feet and can spread quickly. At first glance, it looks like a small-leafed version of mamake, to which it is related. It is a pioneer specie that quickly invades areas sprayed with herbicide, like along the forest reserve trails and in areas along roadsides where soil is exposed. Since Phenax is closely related to mamake, it may have some medicinal value.
Valentine’s Day is just upon us so it is important to tell your loved ones how much you care. Shopping for gifts during the pandemic is limiting our options. On the high end, some consider diamonds and on the low end, a cheap box of candy. Here in the islands, we have a living option that can be enjoyed for years without destroying our bank accounts or adding more pounds on what we weighed before the lockdown.
Our forests and landscapes can change rapidly. A very warm, wet period or dry one can drastically alter the species makeup of a forest. For example, our ohia forests are now suffering from Rapid Ohia Death, and from other diseases as well.
Even though we are still dealing with COVID-19 isolation, 2021 is definitely giving us hope for a better future. We still have to be careful about wearing protective masks and keeping a safe distance from crowds, but there are many reasons to be optimistic. It is a great time to do something fun. What better way to get out of the house and experience nature than to visit public parks and gardens.
A visit to Hawaii is the treat of a lifetime to millions of people a year, and many folks who come are friends or relatives of those of us who live here. One of the highlights for them is to experience the lush tropical gardens and forests that are unlike any place in the continental United States.
The beginning of a new year and the death and destruction that occurred in 2020 teaches us that life in general goes in cycles. Madam Pele manifests this phenomenon as Kilauea erupts again. With thousands of acres covered with lava in the last few years, it is hard to imagine they will ever support vegetation again at least in our lifetime.
Have you noticed that a walk in the forest or time spent in the garden brings a sense of peace? It is a way to get back to our natural roots. Seriously, hugging a tree can help one feel a sense of connection with the Earth.
No matter how crazy and chaotic 2020 was, it seems the Christmas Spirit in Hawaii continued all year thanks to the constant reminder that we choose to live Aloha. The basic teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses and other spiritual leaders all come together here in our Islands. Diversity is mostly respected. Faith, Hope and Love are emphasized in Judeo Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu ethics. This is the essence of living Aloha.
As the days will shortly get longer folks like to brighten up their home with bouquets of colorful cut flowers, but for most kamaaina, living plants are another option. Instead of lasting a few days, many plants like cactus, succulents and bromeliads can last for years. If you like interior or exterior gardening the easy way, then you might consider a group of easy care plants often referred to cast iron plants. They are so tough that even if you don’t think you have a green thumb, you will have success with these tough guys.
These are strange times. For the last several months, it seems many folks have been focusing on the negative, especially with pandemic covid 19 and politics. We should not have big family gatherings for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations this holiday season. Avoiding large gatherings will be necessary to keep our friends and families healthy and alive.
Tropical Asia is well known for its spectacular rainforests loaded with many species of palms and carnivorous nepenthes pitcher plants but it is easy to miss the tropical vireya rhododendrons growing as epiphytes high in the tops of gigantic trees. Most folks spend their time looking at terrestrial plants, or avoiding leeches, snakes and other jungle critters.