In The Garden
Endangered fern mistaken for clover
A Saint Patty's Day must
As much as it looks like it, 'ihi'ihilauakea is not a four-leaf clover. In fact, it is not a flowering plant at all, but a tiny fern reaching up to 6 inches. This petite plant with an oversize name sprawls across the ground with tendril-like rhizomes and periodically sends out a four-petal frond on a stalk no thicker than a strand of hair. At night the fronds fold up, then open again after the sun rises.
Distribution: This rare, endangered fern is found in dry lowland areas of Oahu and Molokai, typically in shallow, short-lived ponds where the fronds look as if they are floating on the surface, like a small lily pad. Although they normally live in dry habitats, it is essential for them to experience periods of moisture throughout the year because their male and female gametes (reproductive bodies) meet via the water for reproduction.
Cultural uses: There are no known cultural uses for this fern, although it can definitely come in handy during St. Patrick's Day. Just carry a stalk in your pocket, and when your friends come up to punch, pinch or poke you for not wearing anything green, just whip this out and get them back. Or present it to your significant other, suggesting you searched for hours to find this one four-leafed clover for someone so special. Just make sure they don't find out you have a pot of these precious four-leaf impostors.
Landscape uses and care: These dainty ferns look great in moist soil around larger rocks or in water features where they can be submerged enough so their fronds float on the surface. Keep them in full sun and they'll flourish.
Note: This plant is also known as 'ihi'ihi and 'ihila'au, but I prefer the name 'ihi'ihilauakea because it is also the name of the crater on the western end of Hanauma Bay in which this fern is found, as well as the name of the wind that blows across that area. More important, it is also the name of a woman who was an alii from Waimanalo who lived near the crater and was known for her beauty, kindness and ability to kick any woman or man's behind in both fishing and surfing. With a little luck of the Irish, and this good-luck charm, you might be so fortunate to meet a woman like this.
Rick Barboza co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 295-7777 or e-mail Rick.CK.Barboza@gmail.com