Monday, November 23, 2020

GALPHINIA ( Galphinia gracilis)


Galphinia is a native of Mexico, so right away you know that this is another of my beloved tough plants. It loves warmth and sun and keeps blooming throughout the year.  It can take partial sun but it will probably means less flowering.  The internet says it likes fertile soil but I find it grows fine in my sandy soil. Once established the plant needs little watering although it is helpful during a hot dry summer.

Galphinia is a shrub that grows very fast.  Make sure you give it some room to grow as it naturally can grow several feet high and wide.  It develops low branches that fill in as a ground cover.  If you do not want it to grow so big you will need to keep up with the trimming back.  I give mine a severe haircut about every year and pinch off the tips to shape it during the year.  Pinching does delay the flowers blooming though.  I decided last year to cut off all of the lower growth and turn the shrub into a full head on a stand shape so that I could have other stuff below it.  

Galphinia is a hardy plant and I have had no problems with disease or pests.  Babies can be grown from seeds or cuttings. I know I have done so many years ago, but I do not remember it as an easy plant to propagate, so it may take some experimenting for the home gardener.  I do love this plant for its persistent show of color in the garden and for its easy care.  It is not so good as a cut flower for flower arrangements unfortunately.  In Mexico it is used in several ways in traditional medicines.


Friday, October 23, 2020

NAUPAKA KAHAKAI (Scaevola taccada)

Along our north east shores of Oahu, Naupaka Kahakai is a common plant to see both in private gardens and in beach parks.  It is one plant that can grow happily right next to the beach with all of the sand and salt winds that are there.  Because it is so tough, it is also starting to show up in middle strip plantings of highways over the last few decades. 

Naupaka Kahakai on the coast.

Naupaka is native to Hawaii but is also native throughout tropical and subtropical Pacific and Indian ocean coasts.  The white, marble sized fruit containing one seed, is light, like styrofoam, which disperses by floating in water.  The fruit and flowers can be seen in the summer and fall time.  It has a curious looking flower that looks like a half flower.  It is white but will sometimes have some purple streaking.  In Hawaii we have several native cousins of Naupaka that live in the upland forests and have purple fruit.  The Naupaka Kuahiwi also has a half flower and there are various versions of an old Hawaiian story about the two Naupaka; Naupaka Kahakai from the beach and Naupaka Kuahiwi from the mountain representing separate lovers.  They each have half of the flower that has been separated rather like a modern lovers heart locket.

Naupaka Fruit

Naupaka can be grown from cuttings although I usually have grown it from seed.  I remove the outer fruit and soak the seed for 24 hours.  They sprout quite readily and once the plants are established they need minimal water or feeding.  They like full sun and well drained soil.  They can grow up to several feet tall but in the wild usually stay in lower clumps.  They do have naturally a very wide sprawling  growth so think about this before you plant them.  In some places, like Florida and Bermuda, the introduced Naupaka has become invasive and taken over areas usually covered up by their own native plants.

Naupaka flowers

Some years ago, I planted four baby Naupaka plants up the end of my driveway near the road.  It was an open area subject to salt winds.  They did fabulous there.  Too fabulous!  They got watered by a neighbors sprinkler and were so super healthy that I had to be trimming them back from the driveway all the time.  This included keeping an eye on the lower branches as they started growing new roots where they touched the soil.  After about a year I removed three of the plants, and after another year. I gave up and killed off the last as it was too hard keeping it trimmed attractively.

On the other hand, Naupaka Kahakai has its good points.  It actually will grow happily in your beach side garden and makes a nice wide privacy hedge along beach side or road.  Some people grow it to prevent coastal erosion along their beach property but you have to know that this is now illegal in Hawaii if you are reclaiming public beach area.  If you have irrigation pipes set up to get these plants established you are going to be even more reportable to the authorities. 

In some public gardens you will see grounds crews attack Naupaka with a machete to prune down the plant.  All that will be left is a bare ugly sprawl  of branches.  (Yes, it will grow back.)  Occasionally a major prune back like this may be necessary but it is way better to take the time to prune back Naupaka with hand pruners and the keep the foliage looking attractive.

Apart from being an attractive coastal plant, Naupaka does have other uses.  I would guess the main use today in Hawaii, is to rub the fruit or leaves inside the glass of your snorkeling mask to prevent it going foggy.  Anciently in Hawaii, the fruit was a famine food or a welcome fresh snack when making long canoe journeys.  Over in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the leaves also served as a famine food.  I remember seeing years ago, a picture of smoking pipes made by northern Australian aboriginals using the hollow Naupaka branches for pipe stems.  Many cultures throughout the plants habitat used Naupaka for making traditional medicines.  


PS.....well after hitting the publish button for this post I realized that this is actually my 100th post on this blog!  Yay!  Still plodding along.  I am enjoying the journey.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

LANTANA (Lantana camara)


For the last century, Lantana was a scourge in Hawaii.  Despite its pretty posies of pink and yellow flowers, it was very invasive across the dry lowland pastures of the islands.  The birds eat its berries and so aided in the spread.  The plant is toxic to the cows, goats and horses that are living in those pastures. Over the 1900s  a few attempts were made to bring insects into Hawaii the would act as biological control.  The plant has not been totally eradicated but it does seem way more under control now.  The wild Lantana is not one you want in your garden despite how pretty those little flower heads look.

Thankfully, horticulture science has come to our aid by developing unfertile cultivars that we can now grow in our gardens.  If you need a colorful display in a hot dry garden this is the plant for you.  Several years ago I saw it used extensively in public gardens in Egypt and admired its toughness there.  I have it growing at the front edge of my yard where it next to a hot cement driveway. The soil is sandy and there is full sun all day.  The Lantana handles it all along with other super tough plants like Aloe Vera and Rosemary.

Several cultivars are being sold to choose from now with a big spectrum of colors.  There are whites, creams, yellows, pinks to orange and reds.  The plant has a rather musky smell but I do not find it unpleasant. Lantana needs very little care once it is established.  Pinching the tips or giving the plant a light trim  will prevent it from growing leggy or too high.  The plant does need to be watered frequently to get established but after that it will look good with a weekly drink.  It does not like lots of fertilizer and any disease is usually caused by too much water or poor drainage.  Although Lantana is a perennial plant in the tropics, it is best to replace them every few years to have a healthy looking show.

New plants can be propagated from the stem tips.  Use rooting hormone to help as they are a little difficult to get going under home conditions.  A big added bonus with Lantana is that its flowers are loved by the bees and butterflies.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020


 This Covid 19 Pandemic is starting to get me down.  I was happy to stay at home for a few months and clean our my cupboards and drawers but now I am over it and want to go travel.  Instead, things are going downhill and we are almost back to to lock down again as new deaths are announced daily in Hawaii.  Who knows when I will be able to share a travel post again here.  Apart from quarantines on arrival here and at other places, there are no flights going out to Pacific places that I want to go to and if you are on a US passport you are not wanted either.    Bother!  Bother!  Bother!

Anyways.....I suddenly had a thought today.  I can write about a lovely outing I had last month..  No tourists on island but the virus numbers at the time were almost non existent and some of the visitor attractions were opening up and giving special rates to locals to get some customers.  Kualoa Ranch is on the windward coast of the island of Oahu.  I pass it often as I drive to Honolulu from home and always admire the view of the mountains, ranch and ocean.  I also see the tourists exploring the ranch in open air vehicles and wish that I could go and have a look into the back of the valleys like them.  With the lower cost and feeling that I could give  some support to a local business, I went and spent a day there taking two tours plus I bought  lunch.  The ranch has existed for 170 years now and has been owned by the Judd family all that time.  It is a big bit of land, 4000 acres, with ocean front land and two valleys that go back into the hills plus a beautiful range of steep mountains in the middle dividing those valleys,  For many years it got its money from raising beef but these days, like many agriculture ventures, it has a growing tourist adventure activity side to cover the ranch costs.  There is still beef farming and the original horse riding but lots of other land and ocean activities as well.  The valleys have also been used as a site for many movies so the movie site tour is popular.  The landscape and views are fabulous and there is also the ancient history of the place as well as modern history of  a sugar mill and a WW ll air base.

I was thrilled to play tourist for the day and finally see the back areas of the ranch.  I am sharing a few photos here and if you want to learn more about the place you can go to their website  The opening photo on their site will show you what a stunning place it is.  The two tours I went on were up the two valleys on either side of the mountain range.  I was thrilled that we actually went on a mini hike up to a low saddle where we could see into both valleys at one time and up where native trees were still growing wild.  I have tried to make an explanation on each of the photos but either it is not working right or I do not know what I am doing with the new but it is just photos on their own.  In the photo of the chickens, they are all hanging out in a mini forest of pigeon pea plants giving them shade and the occasional dropped pea as a reward.  I thought that was a really good idea.   Remember you can click on the photos to have them enlarged. 


Monday, July 13, 2020

PAPAYA ( Carica papaya)

This blog has been going nine years now and I am finally brave enough to write about Papaya.  I can even put up a photo of a tree that is doing well in my garden right now.  No way, however, am I an expert.  In fact most of my success with Papaya in the past is from volunteer trees.  They grew on their own accord thanks to a bird pooping out some seed in my yard.  Other volunteers seem to like growing on the side of the compost cage.  I have been learning about Papayas over those years though....trying to find out what magic seems to make them grow and/or just die suddenly on me.  And how come they seem to grow like weeds in someone else's place!

I have been a daily Papaya eater for most of my adult life so you could call me a Papaya enthusiast. The least I can do is share with you what I have gleaned about growing Papayas over the years.  Any extra information you would like to add at the bottom is very welcome.

Papayas are native to lowland tropical Central and South America but are very much part of any tropical fruit growing around the world now. People from the UK and her old colonies often call them Paw Paw but that is very confusing to Americans who have another native fruit bearing tree with the same name which I have seen in the forests of Ohio.  Here in Hawaii, Papayas are often part of our breakfast for locals and tourists alike.  Hawaii is known for a smaller, fragrant Papaya that is just the right size for cutting in half for a one person serving.  They are called Solo Papayas.  Yes, thanks to Google I have only recently found this out.  I would see "Solo Papayas" written on the shipping box and think it referred to a brand or a variety; but no, it is the size!  The native Mexican Papayas are much bigger and longer.  These Solo varieties have also been developed in pink and red flesh types as well as the usual orange.

My favorite Papayas are those grown by Windward Oahu farmer Ken Kamyia such as the Laie Gold variety which have the nicest flavor.  Some will protest that these are genetically modified fruit but most Papayas farm grown in Hawaii are.  It is GM fruit that saved the collapse of the Papaya farming industry from crop diseases.  You are still able to grow you own fruit trees from the seed in a GM Papaya or you can hunt around for a non GM grower if that concerns you.

Papaya trees can grow up to 20 ft. tall.  There is a corona of leaves up top of the single hollow trunk.  Older trees may have lower branches, each with a smaller crown of leaves.  Usually, if you cut down the main trunk the tree will die.  Water gets in that hollow center and rots the tree.  However, sometimes you can save the tree by putting a big coffee can upside down over the cut trunk to keep the rain out and the tree will grow on to provide fruit from it side branches.  Most trees only last a few years but sometimes you will find an old multi-layered one.

Papayas fruit all year round but it takes longer for the fruit to mature in the winter months than in the summer. (26 weeks from flower to ripe fruit in winter,  22 weeks in summer.)  It is usual to harvest the fruit at the "color break" stage.  The fruit get too soft to handle when ripe and then you will also have the birds eating them.  There are long extending poles with fruit pickers attached for the home grower to use..  Or you can go cheap and attach a "plumbers friend" plunger on a bamboo pole to gently harvest your fruit.  My usual way is to just detach the fruit with a long stick.  The fruit hit the ground but I have found that if the fruit is still mostly green it withstands the rough treatment without bruising and I just ripen the fruit up on the kitchen bench for a few days afterwards.

To grow Papaya trees from seed, just scoop out the seeds and leave them to dry for few days until the moist sacs around the seed dry out.  Having them in a semi shaded place is better than in the hot sun and you will need to protect them from birds if you have them outside.  Those cardboard soda trays are really good to dry seed on.  They are absorbent but the seed does not stick like it does to paper.  It will take a few weeks or more for the seeds to sprout in potting mix. 

Papaya trees are not happy movers so it is best to start the seed in 1 gallon pots as opposed to seed trays.  That way they do not need to be transferred into a bigger pot later.  Sow 3 - 5 seeds in each pot and the best will be selected to be the one as they grow.  When the plants are at least one foot high they can be planted out in the garden in the open.  Select a sunny place with some space for the roots to grow without competition.

Selection time!  This is when things get a little tricky.   When you drive past a Papaya farm you will see rows of single trees but all those trees started out as 1 of 3 that were planted out together.  The farmer then selected which tree got to live on.  Sometimes you just see a weakling that is quickly snipped off.  No need to disturb the root system.   But the main reason for selection is the sex of the baby tree.  The farmer will not know the sex of the tree until it is about 3 ft. tall and starts having flowers.  The flowers and sex of the plant can be three different types:  male, female and hermaphrodite/bisexual.  All those nice shaped solo Papayas that you buy at the store are hermaphrodite so that is the ideal tree you are looking for and you only need one so if there is more than one in the pot, select the strongest one..

It is easy to tell which plants are male as their flowers grow out on long  stems away from the tree trunk.  Cut the young tree down at the bottom of the trunk by the ground.  The male trees do not produce fruit....well except a weird few that may produce a few tiny fruit on those stems.  In the old days Papaya were just male and female so you would keep one male tree around to pollinate your females.  I still keep one male tree around in my garden because I love their fragrant flowers.

Male Flowers

Now the trickier part is telling the difference between female and hermaphrodite flowers.  They both appear on the trunk sitting just above the base of the leaves but they each have a different shape.  The female flowers will have  a rounder shape while the hermaphrodite will have a narrow part before the flower. Plus you can see or not see the male and female bits inside the flower.   Google images can help you here as it takes a bit of practice to see the difference.  Once learnt you will be inspecting the flowers of every Papaya tree you see for the rest of your life.  :o)

Female Flowers and Fruit

If you are a farmer you will only choose a hermaphrodite tree to grow on the farm.  If all three little trees turn out not to be one, all three would be chopped down and a new threesome would be planted.  At home you can keep a female tree if you want.  It will have fruit but they are rounder with slight ridges.  Sometimes the flavor will not be so nice, but you do have fruit.  As I said, the hermaphrodite are more popular.and are the ones sold in the supermarket.

Hermaphrodite Flowers and Fruit

Papaya trees like sun, rich soil and need about 4" of rain per month to be happy.  The thing they hate most is wet feet.  The roots quickly get fungal rot in soggy soil and the tree dies.  Good soil drainage is very important.  Papayas do not like temperatures below 60 degrees F. so lowland Hawaii is best.  It can grow in lava or sandy soils with added nutrition.  They do not like strong winds as they have shallow roots and can be blown over easily.  They also do not like the salt winds.  I try to grow my Papaya where they are protected from local ocean winds but once a Papaya tree has grown above the roof of my house it is going to lose all its leaves and die once the windy season arrives.

Papaya trees love organic matter.  Give them a mulch of compost....but remember to keep a few inches of space open around the tree trunk for air movement.  They love old chicken manure, kitchen  scraps, lawn clippings, etc.  They also like high nitrogen fertilizer sprinkled around every few months or you could go with another like 14:14:14.

Apart from root rot because of poor drainage, there are other diseases that can show up.   There is the Ringspot virus that gives yellow mottled leaves and stunted growth.  The GM varieties are resistant to this.  Other diseases that affect the fruit tend to show up in the rainy winter months.  There is Anthracnose  which cause round rotten spots on the fruit and another is a disease that causes "cat face" deformity on the end of the fruit.  This is why it is sometimes harder to find Papayas at farmers markets in the winter months.

I have long been an advocate of Papaya for their nutrients.  It means you can easily get your daily vitamin A and C as well as fiber in your diet.  It consoles me if I do not eat so well for the rest of the day.  I like a ripe Papaya for my breakfast but I also eat green Papaya chopped and cooked in soups and stir fries as well as grated raw in salads.  If I cut open a ripe Papaya and it is not yet soft, I will peel it and cut it into "carrot sticks" to eat that way.  A squeeze of lime or lemon juice on ripe Papaya makes it extra good.  If the  fruit of a certain Papaya trees seems not so tasty when ripe, that is the tree that will provide the green fruit for cooking.  It can also be peeled, seeded and chopped up to be frozen for later meals.

If you look around the internet you will find many other suggestions of uses for the fruit, leaves and flowers of the Papaya.  Many of them are for medical usage.  Of course there is also the Papain enzyme obtained from the sap of the green papaya fruit that is used commercially in making meat tenderizer.  Another reason why you should use green Papaya in your cooking.  It should soften up that bit of tough beef in your stew.

I guess that is about all for now on growing Papayas but no doubt I will be adding info on at the bottom when I learn of another nugget of wisdom.   I do have one more garden hint to add on here.  I have noticed that slugs LOVE  the dead Papaya leaves that fall on the ground under the tree.  If  I am going to go on a slug hunt that night, I will strategically place  dead Papaya leaves around my garden earlier in the day.  That way it is easy to find the slugs that night as they will all be chomping on these leaves later.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

NASTURTIUM (Tropaeolum)

It is just by chance that this months post on Nasturtium follows the last one on watercress. It is very interesting to note that the scientific name for watercress is nasturtium!  It is thought that the flowering Nasturtium of today's post got its name because it has a peppery taste that is very similar to that of watercress.

I have lovely memories of Nasturtium growing wild on sandy banks in the summer while spending  time at seaside towns in New Zealand.  A few times I have tried to grow it here in Hawaii with poor results. However my last attempt gave a big bright show of color in my garden and I was enjoying picking the leaves for salads and giving the grandchildren flowers to eat when suddenly the plant just withered on me.  It is only from advice given on a Facebook  Hawaii garden group that I now understand the root of my problems.  I had thought of the plant as a summer plant while here in Hawaii it needs to be treated like other "greens," such as lettuce, and grown in the cool months of winter. When the recent hot weather arrived my spring sown Nasturtium just gave up the ghost!  Lesson learned, and I shall look forward to having it as a regular crop in the winter now.

Nasturtium is native to South America and was introduced to Europe by the Spanish.  It is an annual that is easily grown in place from seeds.  It is another tough plant that you do not have to fuss over and will grow in marginal soils.  Its wonderful variety of flower colors, ranging from creams to orange to ruby red, make it a cheerful addition to the garden.  Although the lightly scented flowers look fragile, they will stay good in a small vase for a few days.

Of course the fun thing about Nasturtium is not only its good looks but that we can also eat its leaves and flowers.  The lily pad looking leaves will perk up a salad or stir fry and the flowers are the edible decoration on top.  The young seed pods can also be pickled.  Nasturtium is high in vitamin C and also in lutein which is very good for your eye health.

Thankfully, the lock downs are starting to be lifted here and in many other countries as we move on from the corona virus pandemic.  Safer still at home but I am ready to start spreading my wings after being a homebody these past few months  As I bike around my community I see many new instances of home vegetable gardening happening.  One family has almost a self sustaining farm in their front yard now.  Others have new containers or garden beds of herbs and greens next to the house or a new taro patch in the back yard.  This pandemic has given us a reminder that we need to be more self sufficient and has also given the time at home to do the work.  Sometimes we need a good nudge to make changes.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

WATERCRESS (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress is usually associated with shallow streams and something to be foraged while out in the country.  Then here on Oahu, we have the spring fed Watercress farm that sits next to Pearl City Shopping Center which is a fascinating green space in the middle of suburbia.  I expect most of the Watercress that we see in our supermarkets come from there.

The gardening secret is that you can use that bunch of bought Watercress to get your own growing in your garden and you do not need a flowing stream to do it.  As long as the plant gets lots of water it is easily grown in garden soil or in a large container.  Pluck most of the leaves off your bought Watercress to enjoy for dinner and stand the stalks in a jar of water for a few days until roots start growing from the nodes in the stems.  Change out the water daily.  When the roots get going a few inches plant up your Watercress in soil.

I have my Watercress growing in a large shallow tub.  It could have a big saucer underneath to help retain water but so far it has not seemed to need it although the growth is noticeably better in the rainy season.  My container of Watercress gets some light shade as it is with other leafy greens kept under the curry leaf tree.  The starts came from a neighbors aquaculture tank. He had a rotating system of water from a tilapia fish tank to flush through and feed his Watercress.  My Watercress can grow quite long so that I occasionally shear it back to a few inches tall with scissors to encourage fresh new growth.  I give it some high nitrogen fertilizer every few months. The leaves go bitter after flowers form so trimming back the plant on a regular basis stops the flowering too.

Watercress is highly nutritious in vitamins and minerals so I add the peppery leaves to salads and stir fries.  Plus, in a recent AARP magazine article about lung health it said:

                   Choose Watercress not Lettuce
                  "Watercress releases a compound called phenethyl isothiocynate which
                    helps block the progression of lung cancer and helps to ease
                    respiratory inflammation"

Something to take note of while we are all doing battle with the corona virus pandemic.
Take care and enjoy your time in the garden as we stay isolated at home.