Tropical Gardening: Public invited to rare palm auction, barbecue

  • Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE

    International Palm Society members from Europe visit a grove of rare Pritchardia, or loulu palms, planted 20 years ago by the society at Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary.

This year will soon be pau, and with 2018 around the corner, let’s start fresh by revitalizing our gardens.

Hawaiian landscapes are unique. They bring together rare, bold and colorful plants from all around the world and combine them with our own native plant materials.


Palms, bamboos and ferns combine to give a lush tropical effect where rainfall and irrigation are abundant. In drier areas, many palm species are combined with plants such as plumeria, croton, stephanotis and bougainvillea for iridescent color and fragrance.

Mark your 2018 calendar to learn more about how to bring this fantastic variety of plants together in harmony.

The Hawaii Island Palm Society invites members and potential new members to its annual rare palm auction and barbecue dinner. The event is from 5-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, at Aunty Sally’s Luau Hale, 799 Piilani St. in Hilo. It is important to RSVP no later than Jan. 29 for reservations.

The auction will include such extremely rare palms as Sabinaria magnifica, Cyphokentia macrostachya, Areca oxycarpa, Calyptrocslyx pauciflora and the mind-blowing Johannesteijsmannia magnifica. These tongue-twisting palms are just a few of the amazing palms now found in Hawaii thanks to the efforts of the International Palm Society, island nurseries and growers on the Big Island.

Call Tim or Bob at 333-5626 for reservations and more details about this fun event.

There is a nominal charge.

A great Christmas gift to give to your loved ones also is a membership to the Hawaii Island Palm Society.

Another way to learn more about tropical gardening in 2018 is by taking the 14-week Hawaii Island Master Gardener training program.

In East Hawaii, you must sign up before Dec. 29, so don’t procrastinate. For more information, call the UH Extension office at 981-5199. The contact person for the West Hawaii Master Gardener program is Ty McDonald at 322-4892.

When landscaping with native and exotic plants, remember that many are rare and protected by law. For years, it has been common practice to go to the rain forests of our island and cut down hapu‘u for instant landscaping. Today, these beautiful ferns are threatened because they are very slow growing.

When cut from the forest, weeds often take over the area exposed. An example is in Kaloko Mauka, Kona, where 40 years ago, tree ferns covered most of the roadsides from the belt highway to the top of Kaloko Drive. Today, invading weeds are encroaching where people illegally cut down the hapu‘u and ohia or allowed grazing animals access to the hapu‘u stands.

Our tree ferns are just a few of more than 800 species of tree ferns found worldwide. These descendants of an ancient type of vegetation are found in semi-wet to wet forests from sea level to 5,000 feet elevation.

Hapu‘u was very common in the wetter areas of all the major islands, but overexploitation reduced the stands drastically.

Pulu was used in ancient times for dressing wounds and for embalming. Pulu has been used for stuffing pillows and mattresses. Until recently, large numbers were cut for orchid media and landscape use.

Trunks cut and planted in less than ideal locations live for a while, then gradually decline and die, thus requiring frequent replacement.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where native plants such as tree ferns and ohia are abundant, protect and preserve them. This might be difficult when it comes to ohia since we have the newly identified fungus that is killing the trees.

It is important not to spread the disease by moving plants, trimmings, wood or soil from affected areas. Even vehicles or foot traffic might be causing the spread from diseased trees to unaffected areas. State foresters are even recommending cleaning vehicle tires and underbodies thoroughly if you go into areas where trees are dying. If hiking in an infected area, wash shoes and equipment with a strong Chlorox solution.

Rapid ohia death is another reason not to go into the forest to cut hapu‘u.

Presently, all tree ferns are considered threatened since so many species are found in the rapidly diminishing rain forests of the world. It is illegal to ship tree ferns or tree fern products internationally. This does not protect tree ferns within a country from destruction.

The last remaining large stands of hapu‘u are found primarily on the Big Island, however they are being rapidly reduced by clearing and development, except in protected areas such as the national park. Sale or purchase of Hawaiian tree ferns has been discouraged in the landscape industry since the plants seldom do well when removed from their natural environment.


Unfortunately, the Hawaiian tree fern is becoming scarce, so should only be planted where garden conditions are ideal.

Do not remove hapu‘u from the forest without proper authority. Where possible, use other plant species such as palms to get that lush tropical effect.