Tropical Gardening: February is the month for garden events

  • Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE

    Cymbidium breeders Bob Harris and Jennifer Snyder will bring some of their newest and best plants to the annual Plant People Road Show on Feb. 9 at the Makaeo Pavilion at Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona.

Hawaii landscapes are unique.

They bring together rare, bold and colorful plants from all around the world and combine them with 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.


As the days get longer, our forests and gardens are beginning to brighten with new life.

To get a sense of this phenomenon, check out the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 2 in Waimea. For details about activities, call the county Parks and Recreation Department at 961-8706

On Feb. 8 is the Hawaii Island Palm Society Annual BBQ dinner and Rare Palm Auction.

To learn more about how to bring this fantastic family of plants together in harmony, the Hawaii Island Palm Society invites members and new members. The event is from 5-9 p.m. at Aunty Sally’s Luau Hale, 799 Piilani St. in Hilo.

It is important to RSVP as soon as possible for reservations.

The auction will include extremely rare palms. 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, local nurseries and growers of the Big Island.

For more information about becoming a member and reservations for the dinner and auction, email

There is a nominal charge to attend the event.

On Feb. 9 you can spend the morning at the Plant People Road Show plant sale at the Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona. Several nurseries banded together to bring their goods to this location for convenient shopping. Bamboos, palms, succulents, air plants, orchids and tropical fruit trees are just a few of kinds that will be available.

Participating nursery folks include Chitose and Tsuyoshi Tsumura, Peter and Kay DeMello, Jennifer Snyder and Bob Harris, Phoenicia and Bob Zeller, Susan Ruskin and Peter Berg, Sean Spellicy and Iris Viacrusis, who are well-known plant growers who can help you with wise garden decisions.

For more information, call Snyder at 987-3231.

The Wiliwili Festival is on the same day at the Waikoloa Stables. Details can be found at

From 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 23 you can experience everything you ever wanted to know about avocados at the annual Avocado Festival at Hale Halawai in Kailua-Kona. For more information, contact Randyl Rupar at 936-5233.


When it comes to incorporating native plants in your garden, such as our 24 species of Pritchardia or loulu palms, wiliwili and tree ferns, remember many are rare and protected by law.

For years, it has been common practice to go to the forests of our island and cut down hapuu 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, 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 the hapuu and ohia or allowed grazing animals access to the hapuu 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.

Hapuu 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 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 rapid ohia death, which is killing the trees throughout island forests. 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 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 bleach solution.

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 hapuu are found primarily on Hawaii Island; however, these are being rapidly reduced by clearing and development, except in protected areas such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Sale or purchase of Hawaiian tree ferns is 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 it should only be planted where garden conditions are ideal.

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

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