Birds of paradise and other Hawaii flowers

I almost can’t believe I am writing this in an airplane as I return from Hawaii! I have just attended the annual meetings of the Society of American Florists and of the Professional Floral Communicators International in Maui. I am quite active in both groups.

It certainly has been57ed37fd5e089-image a glorious week. I haven’t been to the islands in more than 20 years.

At that time, I was doing green plant and business seminars for FTD. And each January, I worked for a week on a different island. The schedule was great. We began each morning with a working breakfast and then a work morning and a speaker after lunch. From 2 p.m. on it was free time and time for some preparation for the next day. Of all the islands I most enjoyed Maui, so it was really good to get back.

But this is about the flowers, not about me. To say the least, they were beautiful and they were exotic. I never saw a petunia or a marigold or a zinnia. I am sure that they are there, mostly in private gardens. The parks and the hotels and public places were filled with birds of paradise, plumeria (also sometimes called frangipani) and anthuriums, that beautiful, red, heart-shaped flower. I have had the opportunity to visit a commercial anthurium grower. He had acres of plants, all growing in beds below a netting that created 60-percent shade. The sun does get pretty bright, day after day, and this plant grows best in high humidity and needs protection from sun and wind. While the one we most see is red, this plant has been bred by horticulturists and comes in nearly every color on the rainbow.

Probably the most recognizable Haw6726822aiian flower for most of us is the bird of paradise. It is sometimes called by its botanical name, strelizia, or its British name, the cranesbill flower. Whatever you call it, I think that it is one of our most spectacular flowers. It is a native of South Africa, but has naturalized itself in Belize, Jamaica and Mexico, and is grown in many warmer climates with plenty of rain like Florida and California. And if you have a lot of patience to get it established and growing, it makes a great houseplant. It needs good light and a lot of water, though it does not like sitting in it.

The plant has large leaves at the end of strong stems that rise from the roots. The plant can get up to 6 feet tall. The flower itself stands above the leaves on tall stalks and is quite unique. The hard, beak-like sheath from which the flowers arise is perpendicular to the stalk. It is called the spathe. The flowers come out of the spathe one at a time over several days. There are several elements to the flower. First there are three bright orange sepals, and they are followed by three purple petals. When in full bloom this flower does indeed look like a beautiful tropical bird in flight.

While they are not native to Hawaii, passion flowers are everywhere. Mostly, they are seen climbing sides of homes and fences dividing properties. The vines are lush and, while not covered with blooms, there are plenty of them. Two of the varieties produce edible fruit — we see that in Wegmans from time to time. While the fruits are not eaten out of hand, they are squeezed, producing a liquid to flavor many juices and desserts.

One evening I was strolling through the hotel gardens and followed a wonderful floral aroma. Before too long, I came up on a long fence that was just covered with large, each nearly a foot across, white flowers. They brought back a lot of memories. Many years ago, Dr. Stanley Cooke, a local physician and a great gardener, gave me some plants of the night blooming cereus. Within a couple of years, they covered the whole back end of a greenhouse and, in late summer, when they were covered with flowers, you could smell them all over the neighborhood. The buds opened about midnight and died in the morning. Just like they do in Hawaii.

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