Tropical Gardening: Check out the 39th annual Horticultural Show and Plant Sale

  • Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE

    Maximus and Violet Wisniewski show the gigantic size of this monster clumping bamboo. This Dendrocalamus brandisii at the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary can reach a height of 100 feet or taller.

March roars in like a lion and leaves like a lamb.

It is the month during which spring officially occurs.


For plant lovers, it is time to find interesting new additions to homes and gardens.

So, for all your one-stop shopping needs, check out the Horticultural Show and Sale sponsored by the Big Island Association of Nurserymen. The show and sale are slated for March 8-9 at Edith Kanakaole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo. It is the largest show and sale on the island.

Now in its 39th year, it promises a great variety of flowering and fruit trees, orchids, air plants, succulents, shrubs, ground covers and the best array of rare bamboos to be found in Hawaii. Expert nursery folks also will be available to answer your gardening questions.

For more information about the event, contact Sean Spellicy at 966-7169 or

According to Peter Berg and Susan Ruskin, there will be dozens of noninvasive bamboo species available. These are suitable for privacy hedges, gorgeous landscape statements, edible shoots, windbreaks and those used for construction.

Hawaii’s varied climates and cultural makeup are ideal for bamboo, but until the 1980s there was no serious effort to introduce the valuable elite bamboos of Asia and the Americas.

Thanks to the Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society and Quindembo Nursery, we now have more than a hundred species available.

Asia is the ancestral home of many kamaaina — people and plants.

When it comes to plants, one of the most valuable is bamboo. Although there are many species found in Central and South America, tropical and subtropical Asian cultures have used bamboo for thousands of years. It is said bamboo and rice are the very foundation of these cultures.

The Hawaiian ohe kahiko can be found in many parts of Polynesia. The actual genus and species is not clear, with taxonomists and botanists not all agreeing. We do know it is a tropical clumper probably originating in Southeast Asia.

It is likely Schizostachyum. Vast stands can be seen in the mountains of high islands such as Raiatea in the Society Islands. Polynesians there still use it in crafts.

With large tracts of land now available for forestry, and our local interest in sustainable agriculture, bamboo could become one of our major resources. It has many uses for food, construction, arts and crafts.

Some folks only know bamboo from their experience with the rampant running species. Needless to say, these types are not for the small garden unless contained.

However, they have been used very effectively to stabilize steep slopes prone to erosion. That is why we find large stands of running bamboos on the steep slopes above Waiohinu in Ka‘u or at the back of Manoa Valley on Oahu and on Maui. The intricate mat of roots and rhizomes hold soil and rocks in place and save roads, homes and streams from mud and rockslides.

Bamboos certainly are a more attractive and environmentally sound approach to steep slope erosion control than concrete, wire or chain-link screens. Erosion on East Hawaii gulch roads is a serious problem that could be addressed with certain bamboo species.

Bamboos also are excellent cattle feed and have a place in supplying nutritious greens at a low cost. Local farmers have been working on the potential of growing bamboos for multiple use sustainable agriculture, incorporating the animal feed component and for windbreaks.

Even though bamboos are excellent sources of edible shoots and construction material, most folks are interested in ornamental bamboos for their looks.

Bamboos, of one type or another, are a natural for almost any tropical garden. In fact, many of the hundreds of types of bamboos do grow in the tropics, but some species grow as far north as New York or Seattle, and can be found growing up to 10,000 feet in the mountains of Asia and Central and South America.

Bamboos vary from forest giants of 120 feet to dwarfs of 6 inches.

Many specimens are suitable for ornamental purposes. The clump bamboos are ideally suited for ornamental uses in their area of adaptation. They can be planted in groups for hedges or singly for specimen plantings.

Bamboo does best in a moist, well-drained soil with some organic matter. Apply complete fertilizer such as organic 8-8-8 or manures four to six times a year to the planting. Mulch the soil around the planting.


Mulches add organic matter to the soil, help restrict the growth of weeds and conserve soil moisture. Dead leaves or dry grass clippings can be used for mulch. Apply a layer of mulching material at least 3 inches deep.

If you are interested in bamboo culture for economic and agricultural uses, contact your UHCTAHR Master Gardener Helpline for UH Extension circular “Bamboo for Forest and Garden.” The phone number in Kona is 322-4893 and 981-5199 in Hilo.

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