In the Garden
Rick Barboza

’Ilima flowers can
be used in a lei
and in a salad

Sida fallax

Distribution: 'Ilima is a common shrub or ground cover found in coastal areas to the dry and mesic forest of all the Hawaiian islands. This is an indigenous plant, meaning it is native to Hawaii.


Description: There are many varieties of 'ilima in Hawaii. On the coast, 'Ilima papa (flat 'ilima) grows prostrate, perhaps up to a foot tall, while others in dry and mesic forests grow into 4- to 6-foot bushes. All have rounded green leaves with serrated margins, but the mountain varieties tend to have more of a pointed apex on the leaf tip.

Some coastal varieties have leaves covered by extremely soft, velvety hairs that are an evolutionary adaptation to reflect sunlight and prevent the plant from drying out. The flowers, for which these plants are known, grow to about an inch in diameter and possess a rich orange hue. They are also very soft and fragile.

Landscape use: This plant makes an attractive low hedge or can be left alone as a specimen plant. Plant it in full sun to achieve a maximum number of flowers. 'Ilima generally likes dry and hot conditions. Cut back on water when the plant shows signs of new growth. This will help the plant stay bushy, rather than become "leggy." Reduced watering will also increase the velvety look of the leaves and help keep bugs away.

Few pests are know to attack 'Ilima, although white flies are occasionally found on the undersides of leaves, aphids on the new leaves. A quick wash with a mild soap solution or pesticide dealing with these specific pests should help.

Cultural uses: 'Ilima flowers can be strung into lei and they are also used as a mild laxative for babies.

Notes: Today, 'Ilima is known as Oahu's island flower, but most people don't realize that in addition to wearing these flowers, you can also add them to your salads. They add great color and taste pretty good.

Before eating, make sure you pop out the flower from the calyx, the little green cup at the base of the petals. Roll the calyx in between your fingers and the flower should pop right out. Don't eat the flowers if they have been sprayed with pesticides during the growing process.

Rick Barboza is co-owner of Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery. Contact him at 259-6580 or e-mail rickckbarboza@aol.com.

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