Tropical Gardening: Fall colors abound even in the tropics

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE Visitors to the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary enjoy hugging the rainbow eucalyptus and experiencing the cool energy of these giant trees.

Some folks now living in Hawaii miss the four seasons of more temperate regions. Here we have rainy and dry seasons. This is somewhat confusing since West Hawaii is beginning its dry season as East Hawaii is beginning its rainy season!

Whether rainy or dry, fall is now and we do have fall colors if we look for them.


One example is the painted eucalyptus, Eucalyptus deglupta, sometimes called rainbow eucalyptus or camouflage tree. It is a sight to behold, and thanks to Kelly Dunn and his Painted Trees of Hawaii, these beautiful trees are being protected on our island. Of more than 500 species of eucalyptus, this is the only one found growing naturally north of the equator. It is related to ohia, so the flowers also attract our native honeycreepers.

The Painted Trees of Hawaii is an educational nonprofit foundation. Dunn, CEO and president, resides in the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. He created the foundation to raise awareness about the trees through lectures, events and daily tours at the sanctuary. The foundation has an active board of directors that is involved with the forest, community events and online activities.

The foundation helps maintain the forest through many of its volunteers and community service workers. If you and your group would like to volunteer, call 640-3888. You also can check out the website at

Global warming is no longer a theory and is being accepted as fact by most scientists and governments. This will affect our islands by causing more extremes such as drought, floods and severe storms. We might not be able to do much about other parts of the world, but just think. If each one of us on the Big Island plants only 10 trees this year, we will have planted over 1 million!

Trees not only produce oxygen, they supply shade, act as windbreaks and lock up the carbon that is the main cause of global warming. Scientists have shown that approximately 25% of the carbon dioxide is sequestered by forests each year, so the more forests we plant the more we reduce the effects of global warming.

Many of Hawaii’s forests and forest watersheds are threatened. Not much can be done to stop foreign governments from forest destruction, but we can do a lot to protect and plant forests here.

County planners are making an effort to encourage developers and landowners to protect the forest by placing requirements that the lots remain in forest. The county is also requiring a forest management plan and is allowing owners to dedicate to native forest or tree crops, thus reducing the tax burden. Information on how to apply for agriculture and conservation dedications can be obtained from the Hawaii County tax office.

Native forests also contain many rare and endangered species that local residents are committed to protect. There are programs that allow residents to dedicate and manage their properties. They are administered through the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry Division, Hawaii Island Land Trust and Moku O Keawe Land Conservancy.

Tropical forests include not only trees but understory palms, bromeliads, orchids, ferns and bamboos. Many palms worldwide are endangered because of the destruction of rain forests. Fortunately, Hawaii is becoming a kind of a Noah’s Ark thanks to the efforts of the Hawaii Island Palm Society, bamboo society, orchid societies, rhododendron society and other concerned groups.


Not only is it vital to protect our remaining Hawaiian forests, but also reforest those abandoned cane lands of Hamakua, Puna, Ka‘u and Kohala with biodiverse forests, thus ensuring valuable resources for future generations. This is especially critical as we are losing our ohia forests because of rapid ohia death in many areas of the Big Island.

For more information about forest planting and management, contact UHCTAHR Extension forester J.B. Friday at 959-8254 or

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