In The Garden
New growth on maile makes a beautiful lei
I last wrote about maile about a year ago, but I've received requests to repeat it. Here is an updated report on this familiar, fragrant plant.
Shrubby lianas that often twine like a vine but are more shrublike in appearance. The leaves vary greatly in size, shape and color, from dark to fairly light green. The flowers, which are small, number three to five in a cluster, from light green to creamy yellow. Once these flowers are pollinated, they form green fruits that turn dark purple to black when ripe and are glossy. Sometimes they segment into two or even three in-line fruits.
Distribution: Maile is an endemic plant, which means it is only found in Hawaii. Today it is still fairly common in dry to mesic forests on all the main islands except Kahoolawe and Niihau, where they probably did grow in the past.
Cultural uses: The new growth on maile is used to make beautiful and highly fragrant leis. All parts of the plant contain a chemical called coumarin, the substance that gives this plant its fragrance. Nowadays most of the "maile" leis sold here come from the Cook Islands and are not made of the type of plant native to Hawaii. This is probably good, because the Hawaiian maile is not as abundant anymore and grows slowly compared with the plants from the Cook Islands.
Landscape use and care: Plant maile in the ground as an accent around rocks or at the base of larger trees. It does best in partial shade but can tolerate full sun. Daily watering is fine if you have well-drained soil; if not, water only if the soil appears dried out. Too much watering can rot and kill the plant. Once the plant has a lot of new growth, only water when necessary.
Sometimes ants bring in scales that appear as white or brown bumps on leaves and stems. If you can get rid of the ants, the rest of the pests should be easier to deal with using store-bought pesticides or by simply rubbing them off with your fingers.
You can find Oahu maile in all the Oahu Home Depot stores, Kauai maile in the Lihue Home Depot and Kau maile in both the Kona and Hilo Home Depots for about $12 a plant.
Tasty tidbit: Hawaiians recognized the highly variable shapes of maile and developed names to describe them: maile ha'i wale (brittle), maile lau li'i (small-leaved), maile lau nui (large-leaved), maile kaluhea (sweet) and maile pakaha (blunt-leaved).
co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 295-7777 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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