Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, March 12, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
James Oda models a three-week old hat lei of kalanchoe
blossoms that was still in top condition. His grandson, Michael
Miyashiro, credits Oda for his involvement in cactus and succulents.

Cacti thrive in
home setting

SELLING the idea of cactus as a houseplant isn't easy. Houseplants, if you think about it, are big leafy things like ferns or palms that fill a corner and are properly grateful for water and an occasional blast of fertilizer. They don't require much attention, and sort of get bigger (and dustier) on a program of neglect. That's a houseplant.
So why would you want a spiny cactus that looks as friendly as a barbed wire fence? Ask Michael Miyashiro of the Cactus and Succulent Society of Hawaii. "Because they're interesting, they're weird and they're lovable. And they all flower, if you treat them well. They're beautiful," he said.

Purists will tell you that the name of the society should be the Cactus and Other Succulents Society, because cactus is a special form of succulent. Succulents are plants with thickened, fleshy leaves and stems or roots that store water to keep them alive during drought. Cactus is a special form with branches that are reduced to short, plump structures with spines instead of leaves.

At tomorrow's plant sale and display, Miyashiro will be offering an unusual kalanchoe that could be a favorite of haku lei makers and Christmas decorators. It flowers with red blossoms from December through March, "so that at the holidays you have another option besides poinsettias, and they make beautiful wreaths," he said. His grandfather, James Oda, showed us a hat lei made of the blossoms that was three weeks old and in prime condition.

Oda also is a member of the Cactus and Succulent Society, and involved his grandson several years ago in growing these plants. "Before my grandfather retired as a film projectionist for all the Consolidated Theatres, he didn't have time to take care of his plants, so I helped him. Where I live now, it's so hot that succulents became the eventual choice," said Miyashiro, who lives on Wilhelmina Rise above Kaimuki. (Remember the Bugs Bunny Birthday Club at the Kaimuki Theatre? Mr. Oda was running the films.)

The kalanchoe can be grown as a landscaping plant or in a pot, he added, as long as it gets full sun. The bright red color will fade, otherwise. "The plant has been around for a while, but you never see it at plant sales," he said. "It's easy to grow, and because it never needs spraying, you aren't adding pollutants to the atmosphere."

Another recommendation is Adenium or desert rose, which Miyashiro says grows better in Honolulu than it does in its native Africa. "It's our year-round humidity," he said. "It grows best in black cinders and organic compost, very well-drained soil, and in full sun." The plant looks like a plumeria, with a thick trunk and short branches, and has a similar milky sap, but is actually a relative of oleander. The sap is the plant's protection and is toxic, so care must be taken to avoid contact between the sap and your eyes or skin.

"Keep the roots confined in a small pot to force the tree to flower and the stem or trunk to thicken. Fertilize with a time release fertilizer with a high middle number like 7-40-6. Place the plant where ventilation is good and there is bright light, and it should flower all year long," he said. He also recommends tip pruning, snipping off new growth at the end of a branch, so the plant will branch from the base and stay compact.

Miyashiro grows his succulents outdoors. "These plants need direct sun and they need rain to bring on the flowers. Rain water is not the same as tap water. There are constant electrical charges as the rain falls, and it locks with elements in the air. It seems more energized than what comes out of the tap," he said.

When growing succulents in pots, Miyashiro recommends they be rootbound. "Don't keep repotting them. They need to be rootbound, like orchids and bromeliads. Let the plant dry out between waterings, and don't water at all if the plant has been in a rain shower. When it rains, I figure I have the day off."

Tomorrow's sale will focus on cacti and succulents as decorative houseplants. These include haworthia and aloes that frequently grow as rosettes or in towers of neatly stacked fleshy leaves. These will grow in partial shade, and need very little water.

When grown as houseplants, succulents usually look best grouped with other plants of the same kind. Almost any dish or tray can be used as long as it is deep enough to take a layer of drainage material, such as black cinders, and a slightly deeper top layer of potting soil. Plant the cacti about 3 to 5 inches apart. Because cacti and succulents are solid, fleshy plants, they look best in rustic pottery containers, terra cotta pots or coarsely woven baskets.

Succulent enthusiasts, members of Miyashiro's club, will be on hand tomorrow to answer questions and to convert orchid and rose growers to something simpler. "They are the perfect plant for the once-a-week gardener," he said, "with a lot of results for very little effort."

On display

Bullet Cactus and Succulent Society of Hawaii Spring Sale and Display

Bullet Date: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow

Bullet Place: Ward Warehouse

Bullet Admission: Free

Bullet Also: Sale and display repeats 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 20 at the Hawaii Kai Towne Center Spring Happenings, near City Mill

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

Send queries along with name and phone number to:
Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
Or send e-mail to
Please be sure to include a phone number.

Evergreen by Lois Taylor is a regular Friday feature of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin. © 1998 All rights reserved.

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