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Na Hulu Manu o Hawai`i 
The Precious Things of Hawai`i
Native Plants



Landscaping with Native Plants
copyright DL Yuen, 2004

If you love Hawaiian flowers, why not take some time to learn about NATIVE Hawaiian flowers? There are so many beautiful ones. Many make perfect landscape plants. They already are adapted to the environment (Gee, go figure! LOL!) and so require little care. They also make beautiful lei, and for those who love tradition, an old-style lei made from native plants can't be beat!

The City of Kapolei, on O`ahu, has done a wonderful job of landscaping with native plants. Take a drive through to see how they effectively added beauty and easy-care plants to preserve a bit of our heritage in the midst of modern development.

Here are just a few of the flowering native plants which are easy to find and easy to grow:

Naupaka - medium green foliage with small white flowers and berries. Excellent for shurubbery and hedges, trims easily for topiary. Likes full sun to partial shade. Dry to medium-wet.

Koki`o - Native hibiscus. A shrub which prunes easily into a variety of shapes and makes excellent hedges. There are many varieties of native hibiscus, with colors ranging from white to deep red. Likes partial shade. Tolerates full sun to medium shade. Slightly wet to very wet.

Kou - 10-20 foot shade tree with glossy dark green foliage and bright orange flowers. Excellent lei plant. The inch-diameter hardy blooms drop from the tree and are ready to string, even by children. A stiff thread is all that is needed as the throat stays open. The lei looks like a large fluffy lei `ilima. Full sun. Slightly wet to very wet.

Kamani - 10-30 foot shade tree with dark glossy leaves and small white orange-blossom-like flowers. Produces a round seed which is popular for lei, and the kernal of which makes a useful oil. Full sun. Slightly wet to very wet.

Kukui - 10-30 foot shade tree with silvery green leaves similar to maple in shape. Small white blossoms. The leaves, blossoms, and seeds are popular for lei, and the kernals make a useful oil, as well as a tasty relish for flavoring Hawaiian foods. Also used medicinally to treat a number of ailments. Slightly wet to very wet.

Ohi`a-Lehua - Extremely variable depending on soil composition and weather conditions. 5-30 foot tree with leaves which range from pink to red to silvery green to deep green, and are either pubescent or glaborous. Flowers are pompons ranging in color fromwhite to pale green to yellow to shades of orange and shades of red, scarlet, crimson. Dry to very wet. Blooms and young leaves are popular for lei.

Ohi`a-`Ai - Mountain Apple. 10-30 foot tree similar in growth to Ohi`a-lehua, but with pink to pale pink to almost white flowers, red to white edible fruit. The fruit does not last long once picked, but is delicious for the day it is good. Medium wet.

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     The `AHINAHINA is an endangered plant growing in the alpine regions of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Haleakala. The foliage is lime green, with the lower leaves, and the upper leaf tips appearing to have been dipped in silver or mercury. 
     The soft down and silver sheen of the leaves invites one to gently stroke the leaves, but to do so means a slow death for the delicate plant. Strong enough to weather mountain storms and blazing sun, this unique plant is so fragile that the oil from human skin, or the touch of a hard object, such as a fingertip, however light, damages the fine hairs which protect the `ahinahina, or silversword, from solar radiation and dehydration. They may also help the plant to survive the sub-zero temperatures, ice, and snow of the mountain tops. Simply walking up to the plant damages the shallow root system, as the rocks under which it spreads, pressed down by the weight of feet or hooves, crush and cut through the delicate roots. 
     Once so numerous that the plants were harvested for dry arrangements, used to start fires, and simply uprooted and rolled down cindercones for sport, only a few individual plants remain on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The Haleakala populations do appear to be returning under the management of the National Park Service, US Dept. of the Interior. 
     There are five distinct kinds of `ahinahina. The most famous is A. macrocephalum - the Haleakala silversword. Argyroxiphium sandwicenses is found on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. 
     When the plants reach a diameter of about a half meter, they grow a flower head which can reach more than two meters in height. The `ahinahina is pollenated by flying insects, so its stalk is covered with sticky glandular hairs to prevent crawling insects from reaching the flowers for their pollen and nectar. The flowers themselves have a subtle beauty, and distinctly show their kindred with the common daisy. A healthy `ahinahina produces may thousands of seeds on this stalk, after which it dies. If the stalk or blooms are damaged before reseeding, that plant has no second chance.
     A tiny silversword, Argyroxiphium caligini, grows at the summits of Maui's Mount Eke and Pu`u Kukui This silversword reaches about 15 centimeters in diameter, and it's flower stalk reaches about a half meter in height and frequently branches. Also growing on these two heights is Argyroxiphium kai, which could be termed a "greensword," as it grows in more misty areas and does not produce as many of the protective silvery hairs. Another greensword, Argyroxiphium virescens, is found in the Ko`olau Gap. Its leaves are broader than those of the Haleaka silversword, and it has a looser habit, with the leaves spread farther along the stalk, and drooping more. The flowerstalks also branch and grow somewhat taller than those of its silver relative.


Na Lei o Hawai`i
The Flower Garlands of Hawai`i
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     Lei are an instantly recognizable symbol of Hawai`i. The wreaths of flowers and foliage worn by both men and women add fragrance and beauty to island life. Not all lei are made from flowers. A special song composed for a loved one can be a lei. But all of them are a tangible expression of aloha, and as such are given to show love, joy, or sympathy, and as greetings and farewells.
     Instructor Leilehua Yuen learned lei making from her grandmother, Thelma Yuen, during summers and weekends spent at Kehena in Puna on ka Moku Hawai`i. See the
Classes page for information about instruction in lei making and other Hawaiian crafts.