In The Garden
Big, brilliant, purple flowers give this plant real majesty
A medium-size hibiscus, 8 to 10 feet tall, with rough leaves that are slightly to moderately lobed. New stems, flower buds and leaf surfaces are densely pubescent. Their flowers emerge on tall stems that stand up above the rest of the plant.
HUI KU MAOLI OLA
Bees often get a light coat of purple pollen when buzzing around the 'akiohala.
Each flower is large, 4 to 5 inches across, with light purple/pink petals and a dark purple center and stamen. Once pollinated, the flower will fall off and the calyx will turn brown. At this point it would be filled with many small, shiny brown seeds.
Distribution: This is the only native hibiscus besides hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) that is indigenous. It is native to Hawaii, Florida and parts of South America. In Hawaii, 'akiohala is found on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island in lowland wet areas but was once much more widespread than its current population.
Cultural uses: Flowers can be used medicinally as a laxative and also for a dye, while the bark can be stripped and woven into cordage.
Landscape uses and care: 'Akiohala are great as specimen plants and need very little care. Although naturally found in wet areas, in landscapes they require little watering. Basically they love full sun (which will encourage profuse blooms) with regular watering only until established, at which time watering can be reduced.
Watch out for rose beetles, which make holes in the leaves. They can be eliminated either by spraying with a systemic pesticide or by placing the plant near a light source at night, such as landscape lighting, a porch light or even a street light. Right now these plants are available at Home Depot stores on Oahu for about $7.
Tasty tidbit: Ever see purple bees? Chances are that if you own this plant, you will. One of its pollinators is the large black carpenter bee, which people often call a bumblebee. When these bees fly into the flower to retrieve nectar, their buzzing causes the purple pollen to sprinkle their bodies. When they fly out, they're purple!
'Akiohala also goes by the names 'akiahala, hauhele and hauhelewai, because it resembles our state flower, ma'ohauhele, but is often found near fresh water - wai - hence the name hauhelewai.
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