In the Garden

By Rick Barboza

Friday, February 21, 2003


Dense leaves of the Kulu'i have a silvery glow in sunlight. One-gallon pots of the plant are avaiable at Hui Ku Maoli Ola and Home Depot for about $3 to $4 each.

Latin name: Nototrichium sandwicense

Description: The kulu'i pictured here is the most familiar variety of this plant.

The underside, margins and veins of the leaves are extremely pubescent, covered with a soft down that shimmers silvery-gold in the sun.

The more sun the plant receives, the shinier it becomes. This kulu'i's foliage is also very dense, and the plant can reach a height of 6 to 8 feet.

The flowers, resembling teardrops, emerge in dangling spike clusters, 1 to 2 inches long.

Distribution: This endemic species is found in the dry forest on all the main islands from sea level to above 2,000 feet elevation.

It should also be noted that not only is it an endemic species, but the genus is endemic as well, making it even more unique to Hawaii.

This particular variety comes from the higher-elevation dry forest above Kona on the island of Hawaii. It was introduced into cultivation by botanist and avid hiker Jon Obata several years ago.

Landscape use and care: Kulu'i is very easy to grow and tend. Full sun and a good water-soaking twice a week will make it look its best.

When overwatered or shaded, the leaves will become larger, greener and duller. This also causes the plant to look more "leggy." The plant is naturally bushy, and pruning will make it even bushier. Kulu'i can also be shaped into a nice, thick hedge.

Few pests bother this plant, but if you have a lot of ants, they may bring mealy bugs and scales. If you notice this, get rid of the ants first. If the other pests still remain, you can either cut the plant back to remove them or use pesticides. Do both if the problem persists.

Cultural uses: The flower spikes and new leaves look great in head leis or flower arrangements.

Tidbit: Several varieties of this species have been identified, each with its own distinctive characteristics that are not so different as to cause them to be categorized as a separate species.

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Rick Barboza is co-owner of Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 259-6850 or e-mail "In the Garden" is a Friday feature.

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