In The Garden
Sweet-smelling ulei produces lovely flowers
Indigenous: All Hawaiian islands, except Niihau and Kahoolawe
Description: Amazing shrubs with dark, glossy leaves gathered in leaflets on the stem, and fragrant white flower clusters. These are among my favorite smelling native flowers. The flowers develop into white, fleshy fruit that ripen purple and contain up to four seeds. Generally this is a crawling plant, usually under 4 feet tall, but some specimens on Maui and Hawaii are well over 20 feet.
This indigenous plant is found in a wide range of habitats, from oceanside cliffs, all the way up through the low-land dry forest and mesic forests on all of the main islands except Niihau and Kahoolawe.
Cultural uses: The hard wood of the larger specimens were made into oo (digging sticks), fishing spears and the musical instrument ukeke. Branches were bent into fishnet hoops as well as fashioned into arrow shafts. Leaves, flowers and fruit were woven into leis, and sometimes the fruit was eaten. It's no blueberry or strawberry, but it tastes good when you've been hiking for hours and have nothing else to eat on the trail.
Landscape uses and care: This a great addition to any garden, used as a specimen plant, a low hedge or a mass planting on a slope. It responds well to pruning - in fact, I've seen it shaped into a perfect ball about 5 feet in diameter! This is a fairly slow-growing plant, so once it attains the size you want, you rarely have to prune it back. Few pests bother it, and once established, you don't have to worry about watering. Beautiful specimens are available at all Home Depot stores except Kona for about $12, or at our nursery in Kaneohe for $10.
Extra info: Other names for this plant include uulei or, on Molokai, eluehe. Ulei is one of four native plants in the rose family, along with ohelo papa (Fragaria chiloensis), our native strawberry, and two species of akala (Rubus hawaiensis and R. macraei), our native raspberries.
Pronounce ulei with an emphasis on the 'i' at the end (oolayee), otherwise in Hawaiian it will sound like a particular part of the male anatomy. Trust me, I can't hold back the laughter when people are describing their ulei plant but are lazy in the correct pronunciation, saying things like "my ulei is so bushy," "my ulei looks so sick" or, my favorite, "people can smell my ulei from 20 feet away!" Actually my favorite mispronunciation is, "Wow Rick, you have the nicest ulei I've ever seen!"
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