In The Garden
'Ohai leaf tips give off sweet scent
'Ohai / Sesbania tomentosa / (Oahu population)
Description: This stunning plant from Oahu is a low, sprawling shrub that has evolved to have extremely soft, silvery leaves that help reflect sunlight and retain moisture in its harsh environment. The stem-tip leaves are highly aromatic when in full sun, and if enough are planted you can smell them from a distance. Their scent is similar to the Bath and Body Works "sweet pea" line of fragrances (I only know because every time I go to Las Vegas, I have to bring some back for my mom and sisters.)
HUI KU MAOLI OLA
'Ohai is available at Home Depot for about $6.
The plant also has striking pink and yellow pea flowers that form as clusters under the leaves, with each flower 1 to 2 inches long. But remember, it's the leaf tips that smell good, not the flowers.
Distribution: Several varieties are found throughout the islands. Usually each island has its own form, whether prostrate ground cover, shrub or small tree. One type has yellow flowers; another, scarlet red; and others have red-orange flowers with yellow streaks. Regardless of where they are found, all are listed as endemic, as well as endangered, species. This particular one comes from a restricted population on Leeward Oahu.
Cultural uses: The flowers of 'ohai are strung into leis either front to back, side to side or with the keel alternating up and down.
Landscape uses and care: This plant will require full sun with minimal watering and well-drained soil. Watch out for aphids and spider mites -- either smoosh them with your fingers, shoot them off with water or spray them with pesticides. This gorgeous, must-have plant is also available at Home Depot for less than $6.
More information: If you hold the flower by its stem and hit the blossom, a few drops of sweet nectar will come out that you can taste -- da buggah ono!
Also, the plant known as 'ohai ali'i is not native. When it was brought to the islands, it was given that name because its leaves resemble those of real 'ohai, and its flowers are red and yellow, the colors of ali'i.
co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 259-6580 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org