Rare Kauai plant blooms in 7 years
Description: These erect, rosette shrubs, normally without branches, grow 3 to 10 feet tall, with long, narrow, green leaves. Toward evening this plant is known to give off a light, pleasant scent, closely resembling that of white ginger.
This is one of the most intriguingly exotic-looking plants native to Hawaii. It is related to the silversword and, like that plant, often takes seven years to flower -- slightly fragrant, cream-colored flowers arranged in heads of up to 350 on a stalk that protrudes above the plant. Once it blooms, it dies, but the bloom is definitely worth the wait and the eventual outcome.
Distribution: This rare plant is endemic to the dry mesic forests of Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai and nowhere else in the world. Another, even more rare, species called W. hobdyi is also found on Kauai but is smaller, with slightly broader leaves and fewer flowering heads.
Landscape uses and care: This plant does best in full sun and dry soil, with watering two or three times a week for the first month and then only as needed after that. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to overwater. This plant does not like to be continuously wet. It also grows well in a pot and can be kept in a sunny location on a lanai.
Few bugs, if any, are known to bother this plant. The occasional aphid or spider mite can be removed with a store-bought pesticide or shot off with a hose.
For a limited time, the plants are available at the Kauai, Honolulu and Pearl City Home Depots for about $20.
Tasty tidbit: Iliau is closely related to the silverswords of Maui and Hawaii and are therefore a member of the "Silversword Alliance" of three genera -- Argyroxiphium, Dubautia and Wilkesia -- comprising some 28 species derived from a single common ancestor. This is an example of an evolutionary term called "adaptive radiation," in which a pioneer species rapidly evolves into many species that occupy various habitats.
Our native honeycreeper birds (Drepanidae) are also fine examples of this Hawaiian evolutionary trend.
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