Maui is paradise in many ways: beaches, climate, food, and, of course plants. I just returned from vacationing there, and, being a horticulturist, I loved the variations in flowers and foliage. I was amazed to find that south Maui receives only 15 inches of precipitation per year, not enough for a tropical forest to occur naturally. Many of the flowers, shrubs and trees were introduced and are irrigated regularly. Other parts of the island, such as upcountry, receive much greater rainfall.
With 80-degree weather each day and warm nights, vegetation grows rampantly, particularly in irrigated areas. There, the pothos, a houseplant for us, produces leaves 18 inches and more across and the vines grow 20 or 30 feet in length. I think you could lose a small car very quickly. Upcountry, I saw a schefflera tree (another of our common houseplants) with a base 10 feet in diameter and as tall as a redwood. There was a bougainvillea hedge outside our lanai (patio) that grew 3 to 4 inches or more each day. I watched gardeners constantly battle the never-ending growth, trying to maintain some semblance of control over the landscape. In five years here, a landscape is barely getting started. There, after 5 years, they start ripping things out or risk being buried in vegetation. Seeds dropped by birds, blown by the wind or merely falling off a palm germinate everywhere and take off. Lawns are mowed almost daily. Job security for gardeners!
I saw red, white or yellow hibiscus everywhere. The yellow hibiscus, Hawaii's state flower, had beautiful red throats as if painted with watercolors. Every day I picked up fallen plumeria (frangipani and used in leis) for their wonderful fragrance, placing them in bowls throughout the house. Protea, expensive cut flowers here, grow into large shrubs on the island. Ginger, birds of paradise, heleconia, anthurium, and so many more uniquely shaped flowers are all eye candy. One really caught my attention. The jade vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys was turquoise and navy and looked like beaks of birds, hanging down in a long train.
Not only the flowers are fascinating, but the foliage can be brilliantly colored as well. Croton plants with leaves variegated red, orange, yellow and green become outstanding focal points in among the flowering hedges.
As I write this, I'm reading about snow forecast tomorrow and dreaming about returning to Maui! Aloha.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at email@example.com or 887-2252.