Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Manila Palm (Veitchia merrillii)

I am rather fond of the Manila Palm even though it is very common here in Hawaii.  If you have a small garden but still want that palm filled, tropical garden look, the Manila Palm is an easy choice to make.  It has a lovely mini coconut palm look without the hassle of dangerous coconuts falling or bulky dead fronds to dispose of.  The Manila grows to about 20 ft and has fronds that are about 6 ft long.  It also has the added beauty of its flowers and the resulting 1" long red skinned nuts that give the palm its other name of Christmas Palm.  The name Manila Palm will tell you what part of the world it is from, although it is not actually native to the Manila area of the Philippines but to the southern islands of Palawan and Danjugan and down into the Sabah area of Malaysia.

The Manila is an easy, trouble free palm.  Well ...except in Florida, where they are having problems with Lethal Yellowing disease.  Hopefully it does not come to Hawaii.  We have enough new bugs and diseases arriving here already.  The Manila Palm has flowers and fruit all year round.  The fruit do drop on the ground and some grounds crew workers like to trim off the flowers and fruit so they do not have to bother with raking them up.  I like seeing the red fruit and the birds and wild chickens like to eat the red skin off the nut.  Some of the dropped fruit will sprout and root but they are easy to pull up out of the ground while still small.

The tree is self cleaning, meaning that the dead fronds drop off the tree rather than clinging to the trunk and needing to be cut off.  Sometimes I do need to use my long breadfruit picking pole to hurry the dead leaf down because the base has caught in the flower fronds.  The Manila Palm like sunny, warm and humid weather...just like they have in their homeland.  I am extra fond of it because it does tolerate sandy soils and salt winds from the ocean although it would not be able to handle being right on the beach.

The Manila Palm does well in a container.  One plant or three together.  The height of the palm will be stunted somewhat depending on the size of the container.  It also does quite well inside as long as the room is well light.

To propagate palms I used to just put a few of the nuts in potting soil and they would sprout and grow.  These days I tend to just pull up a few mature self seeded nuts from under the mother palm. They will have grown about a foot in height.  I put them in a cup of water for a few hours to revive them and then plant them up in pots and leave them in a semi shaded area to grow new roots.  At about the two foot stage I transfer them into a three gallon size pot and fatten them  up some more before planting out in the garden.  Newly planted out young palms do tend to sit and rest for a year or two before they really start to shoot upwards.  Just keep them watered and give the occasional fertilizer.  Palms like a bit of extra magnesium too.

 Many years ago, we lived in a condo unit that had a lovely drive way lined on both sides by Manila Palms.  They really made a majestic entrance. The downside was all the kids in the condos throwing the nuts at each other and all over the place!  In my garden now, I have my oldest palm by the front entrance and three more on a front corner.  I grew all of them from seed so I feel rather motherly towards them.  The group of three are of various ages, the plan being to eventually have a nice grouping of Manila palms of various heights there among  shrubs.  One Manila Palm sitting in the lawn by itself looks a bit skinny and sad.  They really need the company of more palms or other plants.  Sometimes you will see groups of three and five Manila Palms grown tightly together.  I expect they started out in a container together.  If you live in Hawaii or a place of similar weather, start watching out for Manila Palms and notice how they are being used in the landscape in both home gardens and commercial spaces.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Shinobu Fern (Davallia)

I have a beautiful Shinobu Fern in a large pot sitting in the shade under my Guava tree.  I love to see it there and it obviously loves its spot too.  A few months ago the very same Shinobu Fern was sitting near the kitchen door and totally naked of any fronds.  This was a result of the Hau tree being cut down and taking away the fern's shade as well as reduced watering while I was off traveling for two months.  The fact that the plant is now a mass of beautiful lacy fronds shows that it may be pretty but it is also tough.  The type of plant that grows well in any garden. Even better, it is also a very useful plant as the fern fronds look very attractive in flower arrangements and the smaller leaflets are popular tied into haku leis.  I like to tuck a few leaflets in next to the ribbon bow when I am tying off a regular neck lei of any kind of flower.

I was having a look around the internet to see uses for the Shinobu Fern and there are some beautiful pictures out there of haku leis, using the fern, that could give you ideas of flower combinations,etc.  The other intriguing find was a web site that shows a nursery in Japan growing thousands of hanging balls of Shinobu Fern.  They tie the plants on to balls of moss with rope and after about a year the ball will have about twenty fronds and is ready to sell just in time for Father's Day.  Many of the plant balls have a bell wind chime hanging from the bottom and are popular as a cooling, relaxing symbol of summer.  They look just beautiful and it certainly is an inspiring possibility.

The Shinobu Ferns can be divided into about forty different species.  I think my one might be Davallia fegeensis.  This is a native from Fiji and is know for its very fine lace look.  Davallia mariesii is very popular in Japan.  The Shinobu Ferns, as a group, are known to be very ancient plants that were growing before the time of the dinosaurs.   They come from the East Asia into the Pacific area.  The rhizome tips are covered in brown hair which has lead to names like Rabbit Foot and Squirrels Foot being given to it.  The plant likes good drainage, water and shade.  It will grow in the ground, in containers or even up on tree branches or large rocks.  They make a lovely show in hanging baskets.

To propagate, the fern root mass can be divided up or you can get cut stems rooted.  The trick is to not over water them or the stems will rot. I usually put three or five stems in one pot to get a nice full new plant.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Three Years Old

Well, here we are at this blogs third birthday.  It has given me pause for reflection and I am happy to keep on with the occasional writing here.  I do aim to write once a month but I seem to miss a few months because I am off exploring the world.  Trips will usually mean some travel photos of gardens coming up.  I have gone back to some of the old posts to add on more information or pictures so you might want to look at old posts if you are wanting new info on Breadfruit or to see a photo of Crown Flower seed pods in Israel.  It is always interesting to see the stats for the blog and watch new people from new countries coming in for a visit.  Posts on the Crown Flower and on the Tiare are leading in page view numbers now.  Thank you to my followers for joining me on this adventure and I hope my writing is helpful to those who stop by searching for help on a specific plant.  Thank you and aloha to all the gardeners who, just like me, enjoy peeking into other gardens around the world via the internet.

As a birthday gift I am going to put up a photo of my favorite sighting of Sunflowers.  This is a photo taken at the town park in Hawera, New Zealand a few months ago.   They had a long line of Sunflowers that were surrounded by masses of the white flowered Salvia.  It was such a wonderful combination that showed them both off at their best. There is another plant tucked in under the Sunflower that is a host for the Monarch butterfly which added to the display.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Malabar Spinach (Basella alba, Basella ruba)

Malabar Spinach is another of those exotic green leaf vegetables that gets called "spinach" because it can be cooked and eaten like spinach.  This "spinach" is a very different looking plant as it is a vine with luscious thick green leaves.  It is a tough plant that is still growing strong in the hot summer when the other green leafy vegetables have given up.  I saw an example of this when I visited the farm vegetable garden at Biltmore House in North Carolina  last year.  There were beautiful lush green Malabar Spinach vines growing there at the end of September while the rest of the garden was turning brown.  With its climbing habit, you can grow Malabar Spinach on your chain link fence or on your patio railing.

Malabar Spinach at Biltmore House, Asheville, NC

Not only is Malabar Spinach beautiful to look at but it is high in nutrition.  100 gm. of fresh leaves and stem will supply 8000 IU of Vitamin A and 102 mg. of Vitamin C.  It is also a good source of minerals.  The red stem Basella ruba is higher in anti-oxidants than the green stem Basella alba and the red stem does look a little more exotic in your garden.  It has tiny mauve flowers that give way to pretty purple berries that can be used in making a natural dye.  Malabar Spinach is native to tropical Asia and the leaves and soft terminal stems are used there in curries and the usual stir fries.  It is easily sauteed and can be added to any dish that you would use spinach in.  The leaves drip mucous a bit when cut so I would use them in a cooked food where it is not noticed rather than in a salad.

Malabar Spinach likes moist, fertile, well drained soil.  It can be grown from cuttings.  Here in Hawaii, bunches of the spinach vine tips are sometimes sold at farmers markets and you could easily get a few plants growing from them.  I find that the little purple fruit dropping on the soil self seed enough to keep me supplied in babies.  They are tough little seedlings that are easily transferred.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Garden Arches in New Zealand

I am back home again after spending two months in New Zealand visiting relatives and playing tourist.  It was the end of their summer so many gardens there were not showing their best for photos.  One thing that I did love looking at was all the garden arches used there in home gardens.  They can be seen though out the country.  They are often simple home made structures, using 4"x4" and 4"x2" lumber, but really add to the character of the garden.  Others can be more expensive bought arches.  As I traveled around, I started to take pictures of them and I have put up several of them on the blog for you to have a look at and maybe be inspired by.  All of these pictures show the archway as part of the garden entrance way but they could also be freestanding.

A few years ago, after another trip to New Zealand, I decided that I wanted a Kiwi style garden arch in my garden here in Hawaii.  Living in the tropics, building wooden structures in the garden is just asking for a termite invasion.  I looked at the new recycled plastic pretend lumber and the new white vinyl fence material to see if that would work but it just did not look like the New Zealand wood arches.  Instead I decided to go with the more expensive redwood lumber which is a bit more bug and weather proof.  The wooden corner poles were not buried in the soil but attached to metal bases that were cemented into the soil to further keep termites away.  So far so good.  Here is a picture of my garden arch in the front garden.  I have a type of passion fruit growing on it....the sweet, orange leather skinned type that grows wild up in our mountains.  It never seems to want to climb to the top of the arch.  I think it knows there is too much salt wind up there.  Lower down it is protected from the wind by the surrounding bushes.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Moa (Psilotum nudum)

I have an interesting plant that will pop up in odd corners of my garden.  Although it is considered a Hawaiian native, it is also native to much of the tropical world.  This plant is an unusual primitive plant called a Whisk Fern, or Moa if you call it by the local Hawaiian name.  The plant establishes itself from minute spores that float around in the air.  It will grow in most soils, sun or shade, even in rocky areas and up in the forks of the trees, so that it can be seen as a weed in both rural and urban areas.

Years ago I was inspired from seeing a large Moa plant in an attractive container at a flower show in Honolulu.  It has a strikingly different beauty.  From then on I never considered it just a weed in the garden.  I pulled up a few of the wild growers and potted them up in a nice cement container.  This I have placed by the kitchen steps where it gets the hot afternoon sum and where I enjoy seeing it every day.  It has proved to be a tough survivor plant.  It does get watered by me and I give it a bit of fertiliser occasionally.   About once a year I pull out any dead brown stems and also cut any stray ones off that are growing up from under the pot from the drainage holes.

Young green whisks of Moa

A small mature spray of Moa showing the tiny yellow sporangia.

As you can see from the pictures, it is not a big leafy plant but is formed by skinny stems or "whisks".  It does not have flowers but forms tiny yellow balls or sporangia on the stems.  In the old days, the Hawaiians used to gather these sporangia and pound them into a white powder that they used like talc powder under their malo (loin cloths).  I imagine a new tapa cloth malo would be a bit scratchy.  Today Moa is still used in flower arranging.  It is lovely mixed in with a small posy of flowers and gives added interest to a haku lei.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Red Ginger (Alpinia purpurata)

The Red Ginger is grown extensively throughout Hawaii and the other islands of the Pacific although it is a native of the Malaysian and/or Melanesian areas of the west Pacific.  I expect the flowers are sold throughout the world because they are a good long lasting tropical flower for the export trade.  Actually it is the bright red bracts of the flower that are the showy part.  The real flower is that tiny white flower you sometimes see peeping out from the red bracts.  Bundles of three or five flowers are commonly sold in Hawaii for putting on graves or to have in a vase in the house.  Of course they go well into big public flower arrangements too.  If you look at my blog for April 2012, you will see pictures of lots of Red Ginger being used in floral arrangements in Tahiti.  The red bracts of the flower can be pulled apart and the separate bracts used in lei making as well.

The Red Ginger is very popular in Samoa and has been taken on as a symbol of Samoa.  There it is called the Teuila and every year the country holds the Teuila Festival with lots of fun activities.  The plant grows well there in the hot and humid climate.  There is a very interesting note in Isobel Field's
1937 autobiography, "This Live I've Lived", about how she introduced the Red Ginger to Samoa for the garden up at Vailima and how it got its Samoan name.  Isobel was the step-daughter of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson who, along with his family, established a home in Samoa around 1890.  While there Isobel was given the name Teuila by the Samoans as she liked to beautify people and place.   To quote Isobel:

     "Believing that lovely flowering plant, the sweet-scented ginger, would grow at Vailima, I sent to Honolulu for some roots.  Soon they were blossoming everywhere, and the natives, admiring their perfumed beauty, paid me a pretty compliment.  To this day the sweet-scented ginger, that grows so luxuriantly in Samoa, is called the "Teuila flower"  I like to think of this, and that "my flower added a new fragrance to our dear Island."

As I have already noted, Red Ginger likes warm moist weather It likes full sun but will accept light shade.  It loves rich soils with lots of organic matter so give it lots of compost and mulch.  I have a problem with growing them in my garden because our sandy soil tends to make the leaves a bit yellow but the flowers still grow.  At my daughter's house they have a long line of Red Ginger growing along the side of the house where the rain falls of the roof.  It keeps the plants well watered without effort or cost most of the year.  Several years ago, I tended a  row of Red Ginger that must have been over 100 ft. long at least.  We left a soaker hose running through the plants which we connected up to the hose bib to water frequently......the water oozes out of the whole length of the hose.  Red Ginger flowers all year long but produces more flowers in the summer.  Giving a balanced fertiliser every few months will increase flower production.  Mature plants can grow as high as 10 ft. so keep that in mind when you place that small 2 ft. plant you bought from the nursery in the ground.  Red Ginger plants make a really good tropical screen for an ugly fence.

The one mistake that newcomers to Red Ginger make is in how they cut the flowers off.  Each stalk the plant grows produces one flower.  To harvest the flower or to trim of the dead flowers, cut the stalk at ground level.  If you cut the stalk half way down you will have ugly, and dangerous, sharp stalks with dead leaves left on display.  If you are harvesting the flowers to use in flower arrangements, the more stalk left on the flower the longer the flower will last.  The leaves are usually cut off the stalk with the top few leaves trimmed to make them smaller for better presentation.

There are many varieties of Alpinia purpurata.  The red flower is the most common but there is also a pale pink version.  In recent years, two other varieties have become popular in flower arrangements in Hawaii.  They are the Kimi, which is a fat pink flower with a lighter color center, and the Raspberry which is a darker pink and very attractive.  There is a Tahitian variety that you see often in Tahiti.  With this variety, the small flowerettes that can grow on the mother flower as part of vegetative reproduction form into a huge compounded flower the size of a football and looks spectacular in the garden.

young plantlet starting to grow on the old flower

plantlet and potted plantlets growing

Seeds are usually not formed in Red Ginger flowers although I have found some on the Kimi variety and have grown them.  The plant naturally produces by growing a plantlet on the mature flower. As the mother flower and stalk dies off the plantlet gets lowered to the ground, sends out roots and a new plant is grown.  To grow new Red Ginger plants, it is just a matter of collecting these plantlets and potting them up.  This is when you like lazy gardeners because if the gardener is diligent in keeping the plants trimmed and looking nice you are not going to find any plantlets growing on dying stalks.  The bigger and healthier the plantlet before you cut it off the better it will succeed in growing.  I usually stand the plantlets in water for a few days before I plant them up.  They do need to be placed in the shade while the roots get established and you will gets some dying of the leaves until this happens.  Then it is just a matter of watering and a bit of fertilizer to get the new plants growing to a few feet high and they are ready to be planted out.  It will take a year or so before the first flowers show up.  The adult plant can also be reproduced by dividing up the the rhizome base and transplanting them.