Tropical Gardening: Flowering trees add warmth and color to our island life

  • Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE The famous Waimea flowering cherry trees are still in bloom. Check them out before the flowers fade away until next year.

The Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival might be pau, but the trees are still creating a great show. Check them out soon before they disappear for another year.

As those trees begin to fade, blue jacaranda, silver oak and ohia will begin to brighten the landscape. Later in the spring, royal poinciana and rainbow shower trees will brighten streets and gardens. The often maligned African tulip trees also will make a spectacular display as the weather warms.


There was a time when forests covered much of the lands that are now grassland and desert in Hawaii. However, with the introduction of grazing animals, our forests began to shrink.

The vast koa forests of the Kohala mountains, Mauka Kona and East Hawaii are now mere remnants of their past glory.

Loss of forests affects the climate, making it hotter, drier and windier. Even areas such as Hilo experience extremes of flooding and drought when forests are removed.

Lucky for us, some folks know the value of forests and windbreaks. Our progressive ranchers are planting some koa and eucalyptus at higher elevations.

Then there are groups such as the Outdoor Circle, 4-H, Scouts and Lions clubs that are doing what they can to reforest. Unfortunately, the Kona Outdoor Circle that did so much to make Kona “clean, green and beautiful” is no longer active. However all it would take to revive this important organization would be to have a few energetic community leaders get the ball rolling.

In the 1980s there were almost a thousand members that worked with the landscape industry and developers to encourage tree planting, underground utilities and reduce the number of ugly signs and billboards. These amazing citizens also were involved in the overall planning and development of West Hawaii.

Now, well-planned areas such as Mauna Lani, Waiakoloa and Mauna Kea Resorts are literally being transformed into tropical oases.

But all this is just not enough.

So how can we, as individuals, help beautify and make our environments more enjoyable? One example, is people in areas such as Kaloko Mauka are getting involved in the Forestry Divisions Forest Stewardship program and Hawaii Island Land Trust.

Even small lots add up. By planting trees in your yard, you actually can change the microclimate and make your yard several degrees cooler during 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? Well, you can actually change the climate over fairly large areas.

Foresters have research data that support the theory that reforestation might increase local rainfall and modify temperature extremes. By the way, urban reforestation is what is happening when lots of folks in a neighborhood or town plant trees.

Now let’s look at 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 on some of our best beaches, our main salvation from endless asphalt alleys is abundant landscaping.

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. Maintenance is the limiting factor as to whether or not street planting is practical.

Be sure to choose trees that fit the space in which they must grow. In some new developments, underground utilities are installed. This allows freedom from wires and poles. In such well planned areas, street side shade trees can be planted to minimize the negative impact of asphalt and concrete.


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

For assistance in the selection and care of trees, call the UH Master Gardener Helpline at 322-4893 in Kona or 981-5199 in Hilo.

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