In the Garden

Rick Barboza


‘Ilima papa

Ground cover 'Ilima
Latin name: Sida fallax

'Ilima is the island flower of Oahu and is used to make lei 'ilima. The flowers are also used as a mild laxative for babies. You can also put some in your tossed salad as a touch of color. Don't worry about the laxative part; it only works for babies.

Description: The prostrate plants possess pale green leaves, woody stems and bright orange flowers. There are several varieties of 'ilima; although they have the same botanical name, morphologically they appear quite different. Some types grow into bushes while others, like this one, lay flat.

Distribution: 'Ilima papa is found on all Hawaiian islands and many other Pacific areas. All grow near the ocean in what is called the "strand vegetation" zone. Here the plants are exposed to extremely harsh conditions such as salt spray, wind, intense sun, heat and drought.

Landscape use and care: Plant 'ilima papa as a ground cover anywhere that has full sun, is dry and has nonclay soil. Space plants about 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart. Do not overwater. The best thing to do is to soak the ground and avoid watering again until the soil has dried completely. If you water too much, the plants won't be as prostrate and will get quite tall, especially if planted too close. Eventually, the leaves will start to yellow, even droop, which is often mistaken for drying, leading people to add more water to the already drowning plant. If you notice this happening to your plant, feel the soil first; if it's still moist, let it dry out.

Mealy bugs found on this plant are usually brought to feed by ants and whiteflies. Get rid of ants with granular pesticide, and treat the plant with any store-bought pesticide targeted toward mealy bugs and whiteflies. Slugs and snails also like to live under ground covers, so if you know your area has slugs or snails (the big African kine, not the endangered Hawaiian kine), treat the area with slug and snail bait.

Rick Barboza co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 259-6580 or e-mail "In the Garden" is a Friday feature.

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