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Norman Bezona Prof emeritus University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture

Norman Bezona
Prof emeritus
University of Hawaii
College of Tropical Agriculture

Hawaiian landscapes are unique. They bring together rare, bold and colorful plants from all over the world and combine them with our own native plant materials. Palms, bamboos and ferns combine to give a lush tropical effect where rainfall and irrigation are abundant. In dryer areas, many palm species are combined with plants like plumeria, croton, stephanotis, and bougainvillea for iridescent color and fragrance.

To learn more about how to bring this fantastic variety of plants together in harmony, the Hawaii Island Palm Society is inviting members and potential new members to their annual rare palm auction and BBQ dinner. The event is from 5 to 9 PM, Friday, February 5th at Aunty Sally’s Lu’au Hale, 799 Piilani Street in Hilo. It is important to RSVP no later than Friday, January 29th for reservations. The auction will include such extremely rare palms as Sabinaria

Magnifica, Cyphokentia macrostachya, Areca oxycarpa, Calyptrocslyx pauciflora and the mind blowing Johannesteijsmannia magnifica. These tongue twisting palms are just a few of the amazing palms now found in Hawaii thanks to the efforts of the International Palm Society, local nurseries and growers of the Big Island.

Call Tim or Bob at 333-5626 for reservations and more details on this fun event.

There is a nominal charge.

Typical Hawaiian Forest with Hapu at Volcanoes National Park

Typical Hawaiian Forest with Hapu at Volcanoes National Park

When landscaping with native and exotic plants, remember, many are rare and protected by law. For years, it has been common practice to go to the rain forests of our island and cut down hapu’u for instant landscaping. Today, these beautiful ferns are threatened because they are very slow growing. When cut from the forest, weeds often take over the area exposed. An example is in Kaloko Mauka, Kona where 40 years ago, treeferns covered most of the roadsides from the Belt Highway to the top of Kaloko Drive. Today, invading weeds are encroaching where people have illegally cut down the hapu’u and ohia or allowed grazing animals access to the hapu’u stands. Our treeferns are just a few of more than 800 species of tree ferns found worldwide. These descendants of an ancient type of vegetation are found in semi-wet to wet forests from sea level to 5,000 feet elevation. Hapu’u was very common in the wetter areas of all the major islands, but over exploitation has reduced the stands drastically. Pulu was used in ancient times for dressing wounds and for embalming. Pulu has been used for stuffing pillows and mattresses. Until recently, large numbers were cut for orchid media and landscape use. Trunks cut and planted in less than ideal locations live for a while, then gradually decline and die, thus requiring frequent replacement.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where native plants like treeferns and ohia are abundant, protect and preserve them. This may be difficult when it comes to ohia since we have the newly identified fungus that is killing the trees in the Puna district. It is important not to spread the disease by moving plants, trimmings, wood or soil from affected areas. Even vehicles or foot traffic may be causing the spread from diseased trees to unaffected areas. State foresters are even recommending cleaning vehicle tires and underbodies thoroughly if you go into areas where trees are dying. If hiking in an infected area, wash shoes and equipment with a strong chlorox solution.

Rapid Ohia Death is another reason not to go into the forest to cut Hapu’u. Presently all tree ferns are considered threatened since so many species are found in the rapidly diminishing rainforests of the world. It is illegal to ship tree ferns or tree fern products internationally. This does not protect tree ferns within a country from destruction.

The last remaining large stands of Hapu’u are found primarily on the Island of Hawaii, however these are being rapidly reduced by clearing and development except in protected areas such as the National Park. Sale or purchase of Hawaiian treeferns has been discouraged in the landscape industry since the plants seldom do well when removed from their natural environment.

Unfortunately, the Hawaiian tree fern is becoming scarce, so should only be planted where garden conditions are ideal. Do not remove Hapu’u from the forest without proper authority. Where possible, use other plant species like palms to give that lush tropical effect.