In The Garden
Amazing plant not readily found for sale
Panaunau / Lobelia yuccoides
Amazing looking shrubs that stand about 4-feet tall, usually from a single stem. Their narrow leaves are about 18 inches long, are dark green on top, white underneath and form a tight spiral rosette; they're very attractive. Many small blue flowers (40 to 60-plus), which look like tiny curved bugles, are arranged on a long stem that rises 1 to 3 feet above the plant. When in bloom this plant is unreal!
Panaunau is an endemic plant found only in a few mesic ridges and canyons of Kauai and on the Waianae mountains of Oahu.
Cultural Uses: None are known, but it may have been used as bait for catching birds. Sticky sap made from the fruit of Papala kepau (Pisonia spp.) was applied to the base of flowering branches of plants known to attract birds that feed on nectar. When the bird landed on the branch, it would stick to the plant, holding it for the kia manu (bird catcher).
Landscape Use and Care: If you are ever so fortunate to see this plant available for sale, get it! And if you're quick enough to get it before I do, you can leave it in its pot in a semi-shaded area, or plant it in the ground in a well-drained, semi-shaded area. Watch out for spider mites; if you notice them, its easy enough to wipe them off with your fingers. Keep the soil moist but not too wet -- and enjoy.
Also: The flowers are small (1-2 inches), curved, and the nectar is a source of food for native birds. The appearance of the flower and that of the bird's bill are similar -- this is an example of co-evolution in Hawaii. The bird's curved bill fits perfectly in to the tube of the flower and as it reaches in to get nectar, its head brushes against all the pollen, so the bird becomes a pollinator for the other flowers and for other plants as well.
This is a symbiotic relationship, as both the plant and the bird depend on each other for survival. This co-dependence is seen throughout Hawaii's forests and oceans as well. Native organisms need each other to flourish, so when one species is threatened or goes extinct, countless others are affected. Perhaps more people should take that into consideration the next time a freeway is built or more forest land is replaced for grazing ungulates.
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