Tropical Gardening: You are in trouble if you forget your Valentine

  • Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE

    Hawaiian Anthurium are ideal flowers for your Valentine. Many colorful varieties were developed in Hawaii, but the species is originally from tropical America.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so it is important to tell your loved ones how much you care.

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. There are many plants that are perfect gifts at this time of year.


The first ones that come to mind are anthuriums and orchids, but you might want to consider succulents and bromeliads for loved ones who might have slightly brown thumbs.

For those who have some room in the garden, consider fruit trees that can supply food for years to come or a beautiful clumping bamboo. There are more than 100 bamboo species grown in Hawaii from which to choose. If you use your imagination, the sky is the limit.

A great opportunity to get some ideas on your living gifts is the West Hawaii Plant Sale from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Old Kona Airport Park Pavilion. For folks in East Hawaii, it is an opportunity to see the Kona coffee in bloom and maybe catch the last of the cherry blossoms in Waimea.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate our love for spouses, friends and family, but most folks don’t know about the dark origins of this holiday.

Its history is shrouded in mystery. It appears to have started with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. Of course, they borrowed it from even earlier pagans.

At any rate, before it became a Christian holiday, men sacrificed goats or dogs and then whipped the women with the hides of slain animals. This was supposed to enhance fertility.

According to some historians, there was lots of drinking and nakedness. A lottery was often included where men would pull women’s names from a jar for the temporary match. Some matches lasted and some were one-night stands.

The result was almost certain fertility. “Fifty Shades of Grey” doesn’t hold a candle to those days.

Pope Gelasius I recast the pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496 AD. The name, St. Valentine’s Day, appears to be named for two martyrs with the same name executed by Emperor Claudius II in the third century AD. Their martyrdom was ultimately honored by the Catholic Church.

Shakespeare and Chaucer romanticized it in their works. Handmade cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages, so today we see the holiday in a much more romantic way.

But what really made big business of it all was the mass production of Hallmark cards starting in 1913. This year, sales of cards and gifts are expected to be about $20 billion dollars.

We could look at Valentine’s Day from a cynical point of view considering its origins, but love saves the day.

The joy of selecting a card or gift for loved ones brings out the best in us. On the receiving end, it warms hearts and helps our spouses, children, parents and friends feel very special.

Sometimes it is hard to know what to give those for whom you care. The old saying “Candy is dandy and wine is fine” works for some.

Other folks might give jewelry, but for the Hawaiian gardener, what could be better than giving or receiving a living plant?

Hawaii is famous for the thousands of plant species and hybrids of orchids. In fact, the Big Island once was known as the Orchid Isle.

Even though they are rather difficult to grow in most mainland homes and gardens, here they grow and flower with little or no care. Some species have naturalized to grace our forests and roadsides. A flowering orchid can last for weeks in the home and then placed in the crotch of a tree and continue to give flowers for years.

Available at most garden shops and nurseries, you will find Cattleyas, Cymbidiums, Dendrobiums, Oncidiums, Vandas and many more.

Bromeliads come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The best for this holiday are ones with red inflorescences and leaves. Some grow best on rocks or in trees as epiphytes. Many don’t require soil and just a minimum of water. They like excellent drainage if grown in pots.

The favorite flower of all for Valentine’s Day is the heart shaped Anthurium. Hawaiian growers have developed many hybrids of all shapes and sizes in colors from white, orange, red, variegated and even almost black, although the black might not be the best gift for this occasion.


Anthuriums do well in shady moist conditions with good soil drainage high in organic matter.

Whatever gift you decide upon, just forget about the strange origins of the holiday and remember to give with all the love you can find within yourself. You will find giving with love is one of the key elements of Hawaiian aloha.

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