Tropical Gardening: Hawaii’s master gardeners are the peace corps of the garden world

  • Courtesy photo The curtain buttress roots of Blue Marble Trees ( Elaeocarpus grandis) create a living sculpture as they rise above the soil surface three feet or more.

When it comes to community out reach, The University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture Extension Service is comparable to the way Peace Corps reaches out to folks in other countries. The Master Gardener program is an important componant of the UHCTAHR Extension Service. That program is set up to assist local folks with home gardening issues.

Hawaii is unique in its horticultural blend of plants and landscapes. Although we live in the tropics, gardening is heavily influenced by the ways of Europe and the Americas. This plus Asian, Polynesian and African agricultural influences have made landscaping and gardening fun but a bit complicated.


Fortunately, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resouces has been active in the development of the Master Gardener Program in Hawaii County. If you decide to get involved with the Master program you will have 45 hours of classroom and hands on horticultural training plus on going continuing education. Course topics include basic botany, native plants, nutrition, insect and disease management, propagation, pruning and much more. Once you finish the course you will become a local expert to assist others to be better gardeners. Master Gardeners also have several outings each year and get involved with community landscape projects.

Registration for the 2021 class series will be announced this fall so keep in touch with our UH Extension agents in Hilo and Kona. This year’s class series includes a field trip on Thursday, March 12, to the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka where they will be planting native hibiscus and collecting seed of the famous Blue Marble, (Eleaocarpus grandis) trees used in the making of Buddhist prayer beads. It is closely related to our Hawaiian specie, Eleaocarpus bifidus or Kalia. Hawaiians made cordage of the inner bark and used the branches in constructing pili grass houses according to Marie C Neal’s book, In Gardens Of Hawaii.

The Sanctuary is open to the public by appointment only. You can check out the website at or call 325-6440 to arrange a tour. The Sanctuary is a 70-acre forest dedicated to teaching living forest friendly and to remind folks that our forests are the lungs of the planet. Most of the land is native forest, but 15 acres that were originally pasture are now totally reforested with a variety of plants and trees donated by plant societies and Hawaii’s Department of Wildlife and Forestry. Once the aggressive Kikuyu grass was suppressed by shade, many native plants began to reestablish. Hawaii Island Land Trust and Moku Keawe Land Conservancy are cooperating in preserving the Sanctuary forest. For information on the Conservancy, contact Janet Britt at 769-4343 or email

To learn more about the Master Gardener program in West Hawaii, contact Ty McDonald, UH Extension agent at 322-4893 or by email at In East Hawaii call UH Extension Agent Eli Isele at 969=8209 or by email at


Other opportunities to learn and apply your horticultural knowledge is to join a plant society like the Hawaii Island Palm Society, Hawaii Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society or one of the many orchid societies. We also have societies and associations focusing on coffee, tea, nuts and tropical fruits.

Information on getting in touch is available online or by contacting the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources offices in Hilo and Kona. Getting connected with local plant enthusiasts is a great way to expand your knowledge with others of our Island community and make friends as well.

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