Hawaii native plant and food garden


Page last updated in 2015. I started my garden by planting things on visits during 2005-2007 and then went crazy with planting after moving here in early 2008. All the photos before 2008 are plants that basically lived without care and only rainwater. About 90% of what I planted survived. Things here grow like nothing I’ve ever seen.

I had two goals in planting my yard--grow native Hawaiian plants and feed myself and friends.

•The setting-About 150’ elevation in an area averaging 80-100” of rain per year. 7750 sq ft lot with about 5000 sq ft of plantable area. No soil--only a’a lava rubble (neighborhood’s 1955 a’a flow bulldozed in the early 70s). This is much easier to deal with than the pahoehoe lava most people in Puna have. Everything is spot planted with a bit of brought in soil.

THE FOOD: My intent has been to grow as much of my own food as possible, with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. As of the end of 2012, I have 100+ pineapples (mostly white), 35 types of bananas (mostly Dwarf Brazilian, but also 1000 Fingers, A’e A’e, African Rhino Horn, Cuban Tall and Dwarf Red, Chinese Double Mahoi, Dwarf and tall Namwah, Ele Ele, Fe’i Aiuri, Rose, Golden Pillow, Goldfinger, Gros Michel, Hapai, Nang Phaya, Mona Lisa, Ice Cream, Kluay Khai, Kru, Lady Finger, Mysore, Pisang Raja, Praying Hands, Red Iholena, Silk Fig, Sucrier, ‘Upehupehu, and Variegated Cavendish) and 10+ papaya trees. I’ve also got the following fruit trees: meyer lemon, pink eureka lemon, tahitian lime, calamondin lime, keffir lime, late lane navel orange, cara cara orange, valencia orange, honey tangerine, kumquat, avocados--linda, green gold, yamagata, and sharwil, mangos--glenn and julie, abiu, lychee, longan, mamey sapote, rollinia, soursop, and jaboticaba. Whew! I also grow lilikoi, blueberries, miracle berries, and cotton (which I harvest and use for cotton balls). Yes, I know it’s going to be crowded nightmare in a few years even if I heavily prune! In 2010 I got my first lychee, mango, and cashew fruits. 2011 brought the first soursop, rollinia, mamey sapote, and coconuts. 2012 brought the first ready mamey sapote, coconuts, and atemoya which turned out to be a pink variety called Lisa. Cherimoya doesn’t fruit at this low elevation or it would have been one of the first things I’d have planted, so I bought an atemoya instead. 2010 additions included fremont tangerine, blood orange, and a few types of banana including the rare and valuable variegated A’ea’e. 2011 has brought several more kinds of bananas and a breadfruit tree. 2012 has brought many more kinds of bananas and an abiu, cinnamon, and Brazilian cherry tree. My original Yamagata avocado was replaced with a much healthier one. Cashew and fig trees were removed in 2011 because the fruit wasn’t great. Seashore Paspalam grass was put in for the dog run in 2012. 2013-14 additions include a few more types of bananas.

Veggie wise I’ve got or have grown black beans, kale, tuscan kale, red Russian kale, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, spinach, cabbage, brussels sprouts (greens do very well), onions, carrots, okra, butternut squash, chayote squash, bell peppers, a few types of tomatoes (cherry and roma do best), eggplant, artichoke, thai and regular basil, oregano. Pretty much everything I tried has done at least ok. Bell peppers aren’t wonderful, most tomatoes have to be picked green, and broccoli got infested with aphids so I ripped it out. Basically, if it doesn’t take with minimal effort, it’s gone. Carrots, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, artichokes, and garlic have done poorly, as have Pahala grown purple (regular, not sweet) potatoes. I have gone from 1 to 5 raised beds in 2010 and they made a huge difference.

THE NATIVES: Hawaii is the endangered species capital of the US, with nearly 1/3 of listed species in the nation from Hawaii, primarily plants. Only 1 species (plant or animal) established itself in Hawaii every 10-25,000 years. That alone shows how special they are. They obviously have a very limited range, and are critical in providing food and habitat for native insects, native birds, and maintaining the ecosystem which keeps them all alive. Unfortunately, too few people use these amazing plants in landscaping. What most people think of as Hawaiian flowers (plumeria, heliconia, ginger, anthurium, protea) aren’t from here at all. Hawaiian plants, aside from native hibiscus, generally aren’t very showy, and few have wonderful scents. But planting them adds an extra reservoir for when the various plants, especially the endemics, become extinct in the wild. I have 30 or so different species and buy new ones when I encounter them, especially if they won’t eventually become large trees. See here for a PDF on landscaping with Hawaiian natives.

THE REST: I also have a few plants for beauty and/or scent. These include blue ginger, gardenias, stemmadenia littoralis, Paklan, puakenikeni, ti, taro, sugar cane, and anthuriums. The only invasive I have (lilikoi) I make sure I keep under control by picking or disposing of all fruit.

Designing for beauty wasn’t a big factor for me, as I generally find that even the most gorgeous planned landscapes here can’t compete with the natural beauty.


My yard in Kalapana Seaview, lower Puna, Hawaii