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Dig This
Friday, March 31, 2000

By Stephanie Kendrick

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Dennis Kim admires a Munroidendron
racemosum's blooms.

Go native in
home landscaping

The silvery-leafed ohai with it's brilliant red blooms contradicts the reputation native Hawaiian plants have for being unattractive and hard to grow.

The fast-growing shrub has sprawling branches and does well in coastal areas. It works as a ground cover or hanging plant and a 6-inch pot can cover 5 square feet in 4 to 6 months, according to Dennis Kim, owner of Native Plant Source.

While some natives lack esthetic appeal, some are tough to grow, most are difficult to propagate and some require growing conditions not found in most backyards, Kim has identified 180 plants that defy these generalizations, and he should know.

Kim had 35 years of experience as a local landscape architect when concern about native plants in the wild prompted him to change his life. "Two years ago I made a decision to have a meaningful last part of my career," he said. "What I wanted to do was apply that background to do something meaningful in terms of endangered species."

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Bright red flowers contrast with the ohai's silver

So with the practical experience he had gained growing ornamentals, but no formal training in botany or horticulture, he began propagating native plants.

"My goal is preservation of the species and being a part of it," said Kim. "I've compressed four years of work into two years."

His focus has been to make native plants with ornamental qualities available to landscape architects and individual gardeners.

To that end, he is testing, propagating and growing 180 species. "I think I'll stop at 300," he said.

So far, the three he thinks have the greatest and most immediate potential are:

Bullet Nanu (Gardenia brighamii). This native gardenia likes a hot, dry climate. It has a subtle fragrance and glossy deep green leaves. "Easy to grow, you can't kill it," said Kim. However, it is endangered in the wild.

Bullet Munroidendron racemosum (no Hawaiian name). Endemic to Kauai, this strikingly prehistoric- looking tree produces a 2-foot pendulum of blooms twice a year. It likes hot coastal areas and is endangered in the wild. It will be officially released at the Honolulu Botanical Garden's Spring Sale (May 13 at Foster Garden), but he will have a few at the "I Love Kailua" Town Party April 9.

Bullet Ohai (Sesbania tomentosa). The shrub mentioned above.

Other interesting plants in his nursery include:

Bullet Black 'awa (Piper methysticum). Introduced by early Polynesians, this shrub is said to be one of the most chemically potent of the 'awa, or kava, plants. It likes wet climates and semi-shade.

Bullet 'Ihi (Portulaca lutea). A perennial herb, the 'ihi makes an attractive groundcover with small neat leaves and yellow flowers. P. molokiniensis is a more upright version of the species, also with yellow flowers. P. villosa, has pink flowers. Hawaiians called all versions 'ihi.

Bullet He is raising about 10 varieties of native hibiscus, including Hibiscus arnottianus subspecies arnottianus, which is one of the few scented hibiscus varieties. The white flowers stay open at night and create a brilliant starry affect under lights, said Kim.

Propagating the plants was frustrating at first, said Kim. He'd scarify seeds by hand until his finger bled, for a 2 percent success rate. But he feels the work is worthwhile.

"The only way to preserve the plants is through propagation; they will not survive on it's own," he said. Climate shifts erode native forests and natural disasters are the biggest uncontrollable threat to native species, said Kim. The Munroidendron, for example, was all but wiped out on Kauai by hurricanes Iwa and Iniki.

Kim is in the process of entering two years of data into a computer to make it available. "The propagation data is the missing link," he said. "Once you get the growing plant it's not that difficult."

With most of his time devoted to propagation, Kim does not open his nursery to the public, but he will help people find plants. "If somebody wants something specific, they can call me," he said. That number is 524-0660.

He can also be found at the "I Love Kailua" event, the Windward Community College Hoolaulea April 22, Pat's Island Delights April 29 and the Honolulu Botanical Garden sale. Wally's on Beretania Street carries Kim's plants.

After all, only by getting people to grow native plants will Kim achieve his legacy. "Maybe it was my destiny to do this," he said.

'I Love Kailua'

Bullet What: Lani-Kailua Outdoor Circle fund-raiser for Kailua beautification.
Bullet When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. April 9.
Bullet Features: Plant sale, discussions with experts, entertainment, children's activities, food and crafts.
Bullet Admission: $3 Y2K "I Love Kailua" button from Kailua businesses or on site. Children free.
Bullet Call: 261-2179<

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

Stephanie Kendrick's gardening column runs Fridays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802
or email

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