Tropical Gardening: You are in trouble if you forget your valentine

  • Photo courtesy of Voltaire Moise There are hundreds of species and varieties of anthurium. This is Anthurium cupulispathum with leaves 6-feet across from the jungles of Central America. Although rare in Hawaii, there are examples in botanical and private gardens.

Valentine’s Day is just upon us so it is important to tell your loved ones how much you care. Shopping for gifts during the pandemic is limiting our options. On the high end, some consider diamonds and on the low end, a cheap box of candy. Here in the islands, we have a living option that can be enjoyed for years without destroying our bank accounts or adding more pounds on what we weighed before the lockdown. Shopping at our local garden stores gives us plenty of room for fresh air and limited exposure to COVID-19. There are many plants that are perfect gifts at this time. The first ones that come to mind are anthuriums and orchids, but you may want to consider succulents and bromeliads for loved ones who may have slightly brown thumbs. However, don’t give a cactus or it might be misinterpreted as a negative. For those who have some room in the garden, consider fruit trees that can supply food for years to come, or a beautiful clumping bamboo. There are over 100 bamboos species grown in Hawaii from which to choose. If you use your imagination, the sky is the limit.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate our love for spouses, friends and family, but most folks don’t know about the dark origins of this holiday. Its history is shrouded in mystery. It appears to have started with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. Of course, they borrowed it from even earlier pagans. At any rate, before it became a Christian holiday, men sacrificed goats or dogs and then whipped the women with the hides of slain animals. This was supposed to enhance fertility! According to some historians, there was lots of drinking and nakedness. A lottery was often included where men would pull women’s names from a jar for the temporary match. Some matches lasted and some were one-night stands. The result was almost certain fertility. Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t hold a candle to those days.


Pope Gelasius I recast the pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496 AD. The name, St. Valentine’s Day appears to be named for two martyrs with the same name executed by Emperor Claudius II in the third century AD. Their martyrdom was ultimately honored by the Catholic Church.

Shakespeare and Chaucer romanticized it in their works. Handmade cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages, so today we see the holiday in a much more romantic way. But what really made big business of it all was the mass production of Hallmark Cards starting in 1913. This year sales of cards and gifts are expected to be around $20 billion dollars.

We could look at Valentine’s Day from a cynical point of view considering its origins, but love saves the day. The joy of selecting a card or gift for loved ones brings out the best in us. On the receiving end, it warms hearts and helps our spouses, children, parents and friends feel very special.

Sometimes it is hard to know what to give those for whom you care. The old saying “Candy is dandy and wine is fine” works for some.

Other folks might give jewelry, but for the Hawaiian gardener, what could be better than giving or receiving a living plant?

Hawaii is famous for the thousands of species and hybrids of orchids. In fact, the Big Island was once known as the Orchid Isle. Even though they are rather difficult to grow in most mainland homes and gardens, here they grow and flower with little or no care. Some species have naturalized to grace our forests and roadsides. A flowering orchid can last for weeks in the home and then placed in the crotch of a tree and continue to give flowers for years. Available at most garden shops and nurseries, you will find cattleyas, cymbidiums, dendrobiums, oncidiums, vandas and many more.

Bromeliads come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The best for this holiday are ones with red inflorescences and leaves. Some grow best on rocks or in trees as epiphytes. Many don’t require soil and just a minimum of water. They like excellent drainage if grown in pots.

The favorite flower of all for Valentine’s Day is the heart shaped anthurium. Hawaiian growers have developed many hybrids of all shapes and sizes in colors from white, orange, red, variegated and even almost black. The black might not be the best gift for this this occasion.


Anthuriums do well in shady moist conditions with good soil drainage high in organic matter.

Whatever gift you decide upon, just forget about the strange origins of the holiday and remember to give with all the love you can find within yourself. You will find giving with love is one of the key elements of Hawaiian Aloha.

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