In The Garden
HUI KU MAOLI OLA
Delissea add interest to landscaping when planted at the base of large trees.
Kauai forest plant Delissea has lovely flowers and fruit
Endemic: Kauai only
Description: This is a type of native lobelia (family Campanulaceae) with herbaceous stems that sometimes branch; it also has a rosette-type arrangement of leaves that cluster toward the tips of the branches and curved tubular flowers. Each leaf is elliptical in shape, about 4 to 10 inches long and 2 inches wide with margins that are pointedly serrated. The flowers are whitish-green and about 1 1/2 inches long and later fade to a dark maroon before falling off. The petals are small, pointed and narrow, and the stamen is situated so that it perfectly dabs pollen on the head of native nectar-feeding birds so that they can pollinate other flowers in return. This flower design is common among native lobelias that have co-evolved with native avifauna. Once pollinated, the flowers develop into small, fleshy fruit that are dark maroon, round and are filled with many tiny seeds.
Distribution: This plant species belongs to an endemic genus of native lobelias known as Delissea. It is also an endangered species that is found only in remote mesic forests of Kauai. There are less than 20 plants known to be left in the wild.
Cultural uses: There are no known cultural uses of this plant, but other members of this family are used as bait to catch birds. Bird catchers would place sticky glue made from the fruit sap of papala kepau (Pisonia spp.) on the branch that the bird would perch on to feed. It would then become stuck to the branch, making it easy to retrieve. The flowers of many other species of the family Campanulaceae are also used in making leis.
Landscape use and care: Delissea look great as specimen plants around larger landscaping stones or at the base of other larger trees or tall hapuu ferns. Plant them in filtered sunlight and give them water about three to four times a week, making sure not to oversaturate them. Before you know it, you will be gazing at their interesting flowers and attractive fruit.
Watch out for mites and mealy bugs that might occasionally distort the shape of the leaves and either make them spotty, crinkly or both. You can treat the problem manually by smashing them with your fingers or spraying the underside of the leaves with water. You can also treat them by spraying pesticides. This rare plant is currently available at Home Depots on Oahu and Kauai for about $9.
Also: Recently, this plant was divided into two separate species, D. rhytidosperma and D. kauaiense, based on morphological differences and population localities. These two, along with D. subcordata of Oahu (which might be split soon) are believed to be the last three of 10 species of Delissea once documented here. Both Kauai species are considered endangered, and the Oahu species is listed as threatened; all are on their way to share the same fate as the rest of the Delissea genus if action is not taken to protect them.
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