In The Garden
Beautiful ohai varies by island and loves sun
Description: This stunning plant from Oahu is a beautiful, 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 in full sun, and if enough are planted, they can be detected by scent from a distance. The smell is similar to the Bath and Body Works "sweet pea" line of fragrances.
For those of you who know what that is, you know it's good! (I only know because every time I go to Las Vegas, I have to bring some back for my mom and sisters.) The plant has striking pink and yellow pea-shaped flowers that form as clusters under the leaves, with each flower 1 to 2 inches in length. But remember, it's the leaf cluster at the stem tips that smell good, not the flowers.
Distribution: Several varieties of this species are found throughout the islands; usually every island has its own form. Some are ground covers, some are shrubs such as this, another even grows in the form of a small tree. One type has yellow flowers, another has scarlet ones, 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 are strung into leis, either by stringing them front to back, side to side (facing forward, keel down) or with the keel of the flowers alternating up and down. Actually, it doesn't matter how you arrange the flowers -- as long as you are wearing this lei, you'll be "da talk of the party." Plus, if you hold a flower by its stem and hit it, a few drops of sweet nectar will come out -- da buggah ono!
Landscape uses and care: This plant requires full sun, minimal watering and well-drained soil. Watch out for aphids and spider mites. If you notice them, either shoot them off with water or spray them with pesticides.
The plant is available this week at Home Depot or at our Kaneohe nursery for about $8.
Tasty tidbit: Sorry to say, but the plant known to most of us as ohai alii is not native. It is not even a Polynesian introduction. When it was brought to the islands, it was given that name because its leaves resemble those of the real ohai and its flowers are red and yellow, the colors of alii, hence the name.
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