In The Garden
‘Ihi’s flowers enhance any landscape
Description: A succulent, prostrate herb up to 8 inches tall with narrow, pale green leaves that are up to an inch long. The flowers are attractive, emerging in clusters of two to five at the top of the leaves. The corolla is pink, white or white with pink margins, measuring about 1 inch in diameter. Small hairs envelop the base of the flower clusters, and once they are pollinated, small seed capsules develop with numerous small, round, brownish-black seeds.
Distribution: This increasingly rare, endemic plant grows naturally on dry rocky coast sites of all the major islands except Niihau and Kauai, although it is also found on Kaula (off Niihau) and on Nihoa in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Landscape use and care: 'Ihi make great bedding or accent plants. They are normally drought tolerant once established in the ground and will have a more natural compact look if watered only when needed. If given too much water they will grow leggy and not look as attractive.
These plants look great around rock features, and their vivid flowers add great color to any landscape. 'Ihi love full sun with well-drained soil and have no problems dealing with drought, wind or even salt spray.
Few pests bother this plant, although mealybugs are sometimes noticed on the flower clusters after blooming. This can be remedied by pinching off the old cluster and throwing it away or applying commercial pesticides. This rare plant is available at Home Depot for $5.96.
Cultural uses: There are no known cultural uses for this plant.
Note: Today, many varieties and hybrids of Portulaca are imported into Hawaii. These alien species could easily become naturalized (as some have done so far) and hybridize with our native Portulaca species. This also applies to other alien plant species with native relatives. In the long run, this could mean the end of another unique, purely native Hawaiian plant species. 'Ihi, the Hawaiian name for this plant, means "sacred, holy or dignified"; perhaps we should be treating this plant accordingly.
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