In The Garden
Friday, July 6, 2001

By Suzanne Tswei

Griffinia rochae, a Brazilian native, is good for
cultivation in pots.

Thousands of frenzied
plant fanciers prepare
to invade the Blaisdell

Officially, the Lyon Arboretum Summer Plant Sale begins at 9 a.m. next Saturday, but the feeding frenzy begins building long before that. Die-hard plant lovers -- armed with cardboard boxes and hand trucks -- begin to line up early. Maybe an hour or even earlier -- you can never tell how far serious gardeners are willing to go to get first dibs on some of the unusual offerings at the sale.

"We encourage a feeding frenzy," says Ray Baker, a research associate at the University of Hawaii research facility for tropical plants.

"We just make sure we have good plants so people will get all excited, and the excitement spreads through the crowd," he says.

The arboretum sale is one of the largest plant sales on the island, in terms of the number of plants as well as varieties. From the arboretum's original plant sale, which was more a field outing for the public at the Manoa facility about 25 years ago, it has snowballed into a gathering of legendary size.

"We have all these people standing in line with cardboard boxes. I recall people saying they thought that the government was having a free food giving-away," says conservation biologist Alvin Yoshinaga, who also doubles as crowd control chief for the sale.

Pilea "Moon Valley" belongs in the Urticaceae
family and makes a colorful addition to a
shady garden.

At one of the recent sales, the line stretched from the Blaisdell, up the driveway, through the parking lot, out to King Street, then onto Ward Avenue before doubling back to the Blaisdell.

Every year, about 3,000 people attend the summer sale, with about one-third of them crowding into the Blaisdell during the early part of the sale. (No one has counted how many people stand in line waiting for the doors to open, but guesses are there are hundreds.) Last year, about 3,500 buyers showed up, says Liz Huppman, arboretum research associate who oversees the sale.

Luckily, the crowd is well behaved, she says. While plant lovers' may have their hearts set on a limited supply of some of the new and unusual plants, there have never been any incidents at the sales.

This year, the arboretum is featuring two new plants: Griffinia rochae, which produces lavender flowers, and Pilea "Moon Valley," which has unusual leaves.

Griffinia rochae, a Brazilian native, is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae). It is a small plant, growing up to 8 inches tall and good for cultivation in pots. The plant has strap-like leaves and a cluster of lavender flowers that fade to a white color toward the centers. Graffinias prefer good light but not hot sun and require good drainage.

Pilea "Moon Valley" belongs in the Urticaceae family and makes a colorful addition to a shady garden. The textured leaves are patterned in green and purplish black or brown. Although the plant produces flowers -- small and pale pink blossoms on male plants and green ones on female plants -- it is prized for its unusual leaves. It also makes a good potted plant for a brightly lit window area indoors.

In addition to the two new plants, thousands of other plants will be for sale: native Hawaiian plants, heliconias, gingers, fruit trees, water plants, herbs, ferns, ti, orchids, anthuriums, cactuses and succulents, bonsai, bromeliads, tillandsias, day lilies, palms and other indoor and outdoor plants. The plants will be supplied by the arboretum and commercial nurseries.

Plant experts will be available to give advice on plant care, and plants will be for sale. Hui Hana Hawaii, the arboretum volunteers, will sell their handicrafts, fresh lei, jams and jellies. Fun activities for the keiki also will be provided.

Chef Kusuma Cooray, who teaches cooking classes at the arboretum, will autograph her book "Burst of Flavor: The Fine Art of Cooking with Spices." The book will be for sale for $42 in cloth cover and $25.95 in paperback.

Lyon Arboretum
Summer Plant Sale

Time: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 14
Place: Neal Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall
Admission: Free
Call: 988-0464

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Suzanne Tswei's gardening column runs Saturdays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin,
500 Ala Moana, Suite 7-210, Honolulu, HI, 96813
or email

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