2004 Biennial – Hawaii

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Date(s) - 05/31/2004
All Day


By Mike Merritt

On Sunday evening, May 29, 2004, palm-loving folks from all over the world gathered in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, for a welcoming dinner and opening lectures that signaled the beginning of the 2004 IPS Biennial meeting. 206 palm hobbyist attendees registered, coming from 24 nations. A sizable group of predominantly Spanish speakers, from several continents and islands, was present. A group of French speakers, mainly from New Caledonia, were also present, as were a sizable group of Australians. Individuals from such diverse lands as Germany, Switzerland, Britain, New Zealand, Morocco, the Bahamas, Israel, India, Taiwan, and the Philippines were in attendance. But many familiar faces from the Central Florida, Palm Beach and South Florida Chapters could also be glimpsed in the crowd.

The biennial and post tours were organized and run by the Hawaii Island Palm Society. Transportation was provided by Polynesian Adventure Tours, and their colorful buses were a constant feature of our existence for the entire two weeks.

The Public Botanical Gardens

The first day featured the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, managed by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in the center of the southeastern peninsula of Oahu. Like most parks or gardens in the Hawaiian Islands, it is in the hilly interior, where moving about means a lot of climbing or descending. The park covers several forested ridges and valleys, and can be conceptualized as consisting of three sections, a landscaped lower section with many plantings, a higher forested section with scattered labeled plantings and clearly marked trails, and the wilderness of the upper part of the park, where labels and trails are both hard to find. A typical landscape of ridges and valleys in the upper section is shown as photo 1. Impressive specimens of numerous species of Corypha, Archontophoenix, Pritchardia, Hydriastele, Metroxylon, Areca, and Marojejya, among others, were found in the first two sections. In the second section is an amazing grove of towering Roystonea oleracea (photo 2).

The second day started with a tour of the Wiamea Valley Audubon Center, located inland in the western part of the northern peninsula of Oahu. The species in the palm walk in the shadow of a towering cliff are organized according to region of origin, mostly the tropical Pacific and southeastern Asia. Various species of Ptychosperma, Acanthophoenix, Pigafetta, Clinostigma, Kentiopsis, and Chambeyronia were represented. Departing from type, a fair-size specimen of Livistona carinensis was found along the walk (photo 3). The rains came in the late morning, and unprepared members of the tour group (including myself) remained wet for the rest of the day. A pair of Pigafetta filaris silhouetted against the leaden gray sky is shown in photo 4. We were told by some who had grown this species that most of the growth to their imposing stature occurs in first 4-5 years.

In the afternoon, we traveled to the Polynesian Cultural Center on the eastern coast of the northern peninsula for non-botanical entertainment. As the center is owned and operated by the Mormon Church, we could not indulge any wishes for cold beer that might have occurred. As the rains continued, we purchased colorful clear plastic raingear for two dollars apiece and wandered around viewing various shows and educational programs. In one tent, a native Hawaiian comedian performed before a multicultural audience, lampooning all the cultures, including his own. He was especially tough on the Japanese, represented by a huge part of the audience, who endured it stoically, showing little reaction. In another tent, a young lady lectured a small number of listeners on the origins of the early settlers of the Hawaiian Islands (the eastern Pacific and, possibly, also South America).

Dinner was in a vast roofed stadium with thousands of people packed like sardines. The food was excellent and included dishes of octopus and raw fish, with seaweed salad on the side. The hula dances performed later in an outdoor theater were interesting, but the huge crowd was jammed into such a small space that it was difficult to move.

During the morning of the third day, we toured the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, maintained by the City and County of Honolulu slightly inland of the northern coast of the eastern peninsula of Oahu. Although this is the windward, rainy side of the island, we were spared from the rain on this day, though heavy gray clouds loomed over the nearby mountains (photo 5). This garden receives my vote for the most impressive and varied of the public gardens that we viewed. Among the palm genera viewed here as large, mature plants were Nephrosperma (N. vanhoutianum, photo 6), Phoenicophorium, Metroxylon, Neoveitchia, Burretiokentia, Gronophyllum (two individuals of G. cylindrocarpum are shown in photo 7), and Golubia (two individuals of G. costata are silhouetted against a gray sky in photo 8 with a Cyphophoenix elegans below).

We saw a whole grove of 60-ft Cyrtostachys renda (photo 9), most having brilliant red crownshafts. Dypsis decipiens, coming from the desert regions of Madagascar, has a reputation for being difficult in Florida. Photo 10 shows a robust-looking trio growing on an embankment in an area receiving over 150 inches of rainfall a year. On the opposite side of the road was the dwarf blue form of Pritchardia hillebrandii (photo 11). Notable by their relative absence were most New World palm genera. However, the garden did have a grove of either Iriartea or Socratea, tall New World stilt-root palms.

The Private Gardens

The fourth day found us on Hawaii, the “Big Island”. From our base in Hilo on the eastern, windward, rainy side of the island, we toured remarkable local gardens belonging to Lars and Leanne Swann, Pauline Sullivan, and Bo-Göran and Karolyn Lundkvist. Pauline began her garden in 1990, the Swanns and Lundkvists began their gardens in 1996. What they have achieved in that short period of time is truly remarkable, all the more so because acreage in southern Hawaii Island is far from what might be envisaged by U. S. mainlanders.

The raw acreage is a jumble of jagged lava rock containing only a few pockets of soil. The lots are usually colonized by a forest of Ohi’a trees (Metrosideros polymorpha). Normal sandy, limey, or clayey soils are not available on Hawaii Island, so local folks looking for fill use ground-up volcanic cinder. Developing land involves the clearing of some of the Ohi’as, breaking up lava rock for paths or flat areas, and filling in pockets with cinder to make areas for planting. Every scrap of vegetable matter is saved for use as mulch.

Given an annual rainfall rate of 150 inches without any marked dry season, most plants seem to grow amazingly fast in the cinder material. Since temperatures rarely go below the upper 50’s, the most tender tropicals are happy here. Pauline is near sea level, and the Swanns and Lundkvists are at about 800 feet, so their temperature highs may occasionally reach the upper 80’s. For lots higher in elevation, the upper limit may be in the low 80’s. Some palm hobbyists living at the higher elevations report that some warmth loving species (e. g., coconuts) grow very slowly, but Madagascar Dypsis and New Caledonian species grow very well. Air circulation is good on the windward side of Hawaii Island, as there always seems to be a steady breeze from the ocean.

As in the public gardens, the species composition in these three gardens was primarily of Indo-Pacific origin, with emphasis on palms of Madagascar, New Caledonia, and the Seychelles. A pair of juvenile (despite their size) Metroxylon warburgii in the Swann garden are imaged in photo 12, and the Swann’s planting of Dypsis nauseosa is imaged in photo 13. Photo 14 shows a Dypsis tsaravoasira in the Lundkvist garden. Despite being north of the main tectonic zone, Bo-Göran warns that his garden is occasionally affected by minor tremblors and shifting of surface soils.

Photo 15 shows a planting of Dypsis bejofo in the Sullivan garden. The background in this picture illustrates the most remarkable aspect of Pauline Sullivan’s palm gardening concept. Pauline believes that each palm should be set off by itself without the intrusion of other objects or plants. Hence, her garden is a nearly flat bed of cinders, punctuated at intervals by solitary palms. This unusual concept did not appeal to everyone in the IPS party, but is certainly a novel approach. Another unusual concept was the use of hundreds of Cyrtostachys renda clumps for a hedge around the border of the property (just as south Floridians and Ruth Sallenbach use Dypsis lutescens clumps). (Pauline Sullivan is now confined to a wheelchair and could not remain long with the IPS group. Her son provided the main interface with the group.)

On the fifth day we were treated to four palm and cycad collections. In the morning we viewed the private garden of Garrin Fullington, who has spent eighteen years transforming an area of cattle pasture into a tropical garden. I was impressed by the huge, furry inflorescence of a Burretiokentia hapala and by a row of Archontophoenix purpureas along his driveway. Cynical zone 9B person that I am, I have always doubted the reality of an Archontophoenix species that consistently had purple crownshafts. But there they were, lined up like soldiers for inspection, one purple crownshaft after another.

Later we visited the campus of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. A professor whose main professional interest is the study of fungi showed us his impressive and comprehensive on-campus collection of cycads, a private passion. In the late afternoon, we visited the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. The Hawaii Island Palm Society has been planting palms in the zoo for many years, and many impressive specimens were seen.

But before going to the Panaewa Zoo, we visited the palm collection of Jeff Marcus, well-known proprietor of Floribunda Palms. Jeff has been growing many of the rare palm species advertised in his list of seedlings for hobbyists. Many of his sales are to local people in the Hawaiian Islands, and many of the aforementioned collections were formed from his seedlings. Jeff’s collection of in-ground palms was as impressive as any of the other private gardens, consisting mainly of palms of the Indo-Pacific region, such as Dypsis prestoniana (photo 16). Self-described as “hyper”, Jeff over-exerted his voice speaking loudly to the four visiting subgroups, and, presiding at the general meeting later that night, Jeff could only croak that he needed a voice transplant.

On the sixth day of the biennial, we visited a group of estates on Onomea Bay, on the upper east coast of Hawaii Island, that used to be sections of the estate of the late Donn Carlsmith. What can one say about groves of Pigafettas and a commanding view of Onomea Bay (photo 17)?

The complex tour arrangements, ground transportation, meals, plane flights, etc., all went like clockwork to the extent that we were unaware of this aspect of things. Much credit is due to Hawaii Island Palm Society members like Karen Piercy (photo 18, with Bo- Göran Lundkvist). Karen shepherded the IPS party from day first to day last, and was joined on the post tour by her spouse Steve.

Palmed Out

Near the end of the biennial, I had reached a point where I had seen so many spectacular palms that I turned away in boredom from yet another Pigafetta or Metroxylon. I had seen hedges of Cyrtostachys renda, driveways lined with Archontophoenix purpurea, and even shopping center parking lots where the landscape islands were planted with groves of the orange crownshaft form of Areca vestiaria. So I chose to change my focus to a study of endemic palms, a type of activity that was rewarding for participants at previous biennials in New Caledonia, France, and Thailand.

The Genus Pritchardia

In the Hawaiian Islands, the term “endemic palm” refers to medium-size to large slightly costapalmate fan-leafed palms belonging to the genus Pritchardia, called loulus by the native Hawaiians. Many Pritchardias are spectacular sights. P. pacifica and P. thurstonii are used for landscaping in tropical regions throughout the world. Of the Hawaiian Pritchardias, perhaps the most spectacular are the species with large, stiff, plate-like leaves, like P. viscosa (native to Kauai, photo 19), P. martii (native to Oahu, photo 20), and P. hardyi (native to Kauai). Other species are only slightly less spectacular because of some leaf-folding (P. hillebrandii, native to Molokai) and also a tendency to pendant leaf tips (P. remota, native to Nihoa). To me, P. affinis (native to Hawaii Island), with its deeply folded gray-green leaves, has a slight resemblance to central Florida’s own cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto).

On the fourth night of the biennial, all of the scheduled talks concerned this genus. First to speak was Melany Chapin, a botanist specializing in palms and resident of Hawaii. She was followed by Don Hodel, currently at the University of California. Both have published papers on Pritchardia, some for PRINCIPIES/PALMS, which, unfortunately, I have not seen. The following discussion is based on the talks, the Jones and Riffle-Craft books, and on other bits of information that I have been able to gather from the Web.

Twenty-three species of Pritchardias endemic to Hawaii are currently recognized. P. glabrata (native to Maui), P. aylmer-robinsonii (native to Ni’ihau), and P. napaliensis (native to Kauai) are currently considered separate species despite their similarity to P. remota.

In the talks, the hypothesis was proposed that the genus Pritchardia may have evolved in the Pacific, based on the fact that Pacific species such as P. pacifica (native to Tonga) and P. thurstonii (native to Fiji) have small fruits, perhaps maximizing their potential for dispersal to other islands. When Pritchardias reached Hawaii, they would have undergone a process of speciation into the various environments found on the various islands. The Hawaiian environments may have encouraged the development of larger fruits (some of the Hawaiian Pritchardias have fruits as large as two inches in length or diameter),

Enter the Polynesian settlers about 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, bringing with them pigs and rats, which found the large Pritchardia seeds to be an excellent source of nourishment. Recruitment of younger individuals in the wild populations would have been severely curtailed. The arrival of Europeans in the early nineteenth century brought about the clearing of most of the lowland forests for agriculture, with further adverse effects for the loulu populations.

Today, most of the loulu species are classified by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critically endangered or vulnerable. Some may have become extinct without ever being described. P. maideniana was described from a tree in a botanical garden in Tahiti. It cannot even be verified that it is from the Hawaiian Islands. P. affinis and P. hillebrandii have not been found in the wild, but are known only from the remnants of groves apparently planted by the native Hawaiians. P. viscosa is known in the wild only from three specimens, the rest having been destroyed by Typhoon Iniki in 1992. Only one mature individual of P. munroi (native to Molokai, photo 21) is known in the wild. In 1985, only twelve individuals of P. schattaueri (native to Hawaii Island) remained in the wild.

Other speakers on Pritchardia night described the reintroduction of endangered Pritchardias to the wild, with specific talks on P. schattaueri and P. lanigera. Other reintroduction programs are in progress for P. glabrata, P. munroi, and P. affinis. Lyon Arboretum is planting P. martii, and photo 20 is of one such planting. Most of the gardens we visited had Pritchardia collections, offering chances for study and species comparison.

The Other Talks

On the first night, Don Hodel gave a talk on doing field collection of palms in Myanmar. The talk was similar to his article in the July issue of PALMS. Don was one of the first botanists to get into that country in quite a few years. In his talk, he confided that the trip tended to focus his interest on the genus Calamus. Following Don’s talk, Tobias Spanner described searching for palms in South America.

On Friday night, Leng Guan Saw (Forest Research Institute, Malaysia) described searching for Licuala species on the island of Borneo. There are 46 species on Borneo alone. In Scott Zona’s talk on Madagascar palms, Scott revealed that his group was able to find Dypsis ambositrae in the wild, so that it had not become extinct after the destruction of its previously known habitat. His group found a new species of Dypsis that spends part of its growth cycle completely submerged near riverbanks.

At the farewell dinner on Saturday night, outgoing IPS president Horace Hobbs made his goodbyes. The new president is Florida’s own Paul Craft. Afterward, Andrew Henderson gave us an update on his current work in progress, a field guide to Old World palms. Andrew has found the task to be sufficiently daunting that he has divided the work into two projected volumes. The first will be south Asia, excluding Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. He also advised that he was able to develop an excellent field key for the genus Calamus.

Following Andrew’s talk, Leonel Mera, speaking in Spanish, translated for us English speakers by Lupita Butler, invited the IPS to have its 2006 biennial in the Dominican Republic. He hoped that political conditions would permit a post-tour to be held in Cuba.

The Volcanoes National Park Tour

A non-palm diversion was offered on Sunday between the biennial and post-tour. The main road into the park circles around the caldera of Kilauea Volcano (photo 22), which has been in eruption for 20 years. At the park visitors’ center, we could view artwork and we were treated to an exhibition of hula dancing (photo 23), said to be authentic and free of any commercially motivated exaggeration. Seating was informal (spread out on a piece of waterproof material on the grass), but far more comfortable than on Oahu on Tuesday.

The Post Tour

The post tour, with 86 registrants, was rather laid back and low key compared to the biennial, but still provided unique places to see, and also provided an opportunity to visit the dry side of Hawaii Island and Kauai. On Monday, we went to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, located on Onomea Bay on the eastern, windward coast of Hawaii Island, not far from the former Carlsmith estate. The special focus of this garden is gingers, heliconias, bromeliads, and anthuriums, but many unusual palm specimens were also available to see.

On Tuesday, we traveled to the dry, western coast of Hawaii Island, stopping at a black sand beach near the southern tip of the island to view a remnant grove of Pritchardia affinis. On Wednesday, we visited two remarkable estates and gardens on the western side, belonging to Brian Lievens and Norman Bezona. Brian is a landscape architect, and the layout of his grounds serves as a laboratory and demonstration model for his projects. Of native loulos, he grows only Pritchardia schattauerii, so that he will be in a position to offer non-hybridized seeds and young plants to clients and neighbors.

Norman Bezona’s property at 3,000 ft elevation is a preserve for native species in which many non-native palms and bamboos have been planted. A special treat was to see Norman’s house, which he graciously opened to us. The house is in three levels on a hillside. It is framed with some type of light-colored and strong lumber and features enormous windows, and an open interior design that minimizes interior walls. The outer walls seem to be solely for purpose of supporting the enormous windows. When one lives on the leeward side of Hawaii, who needs walls?

On Thursday, we traveled to Kauai and went straight to the McBryde Garden and Allerton Garden, each managed by the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a congressionally-chartered, privately funded, non-profit organization that conducts scientific research and promotes plant conservation. In Florida, the NTBG maintains the Kampong, the former home of David Fairchild. These gardens, located on the southern coast of Kauai, are beautifully landscaped and have a global selection of palm species. The Allerton Garden, a former private estate, has many unique engineering features that involve the movement of water for aesthetic purposes. The McBryde Garden includes a large Pritchardia collection in the upper valley that is used for scientific research.

On Friday, we traveled to the north shore of Kauai to see two remarkable gardens. Hale manu (“House of Birds”) is a bed and breakfast on a 3.5-acre lot that has been landscaped into a beautiful garden featuring many palm plantings. The landscaping is open and huge beds of flowers have been planted, so that the palms are surrounded by blocks of exotic color. Photo 24 shows part of the IPS post-tour group in the landscape (ocean in the background). The second garden was the Pepperwood Plantation, owned and operated by “Jungle Dan”, a local landscape designer. Many of his exotic palm plantings are in a dark ravine accessible by a steep, slippery trail. Dan also maintains a large planting of native Pritchardia species.

On Saturday, we were back on Oahu, and went to two of the gardens maintained by the City and County of Honolulu. The first was the Koko Crater Botanical Garden, located in a volcanic crater on the eastern tip of Oahu. Because the sides of the crater screen out rain clouds, the park is remarkably dry, receiving about 15 inches of rainfall per year. Entering the park, we passed a huge collection of Plumerias, most having grown into large trees that might be the envy of many in Florida. Because of the dry climate, the park has extensive plantings of Caribbean palms, which are regarded in Hawaii as being dry climate palms. I marveled at 40-ft tall Copernicia albas with skirts of old leaves reaching to the ground. There was an extensive collection of Brahea species. There were large groves of Pritchardia remota and Pritchardia schattauerii.

Our final stop was at the ”grand old lady” of Honolulu gardens, Foster Botanical Garden, surrounded by skyscrapers in downtown Honolulu. The garden has a global selection of palm species, most of which are quite mature and towering in their size. At one end of the garden was a fruiting coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica). However, most of the plantings of loulu species were surprisingly young. The garden also included a comprehensive cycad collection, including the legendary Encephalartos woodii (photo 25). Many gardens in the world have offsets of E. woodii from a plant collected in South Africa in 1895, where the plant is now unknown in the wild.


From Foster’s Botanical Garden, we returned to our hotel, the Prince Kuhio, where I looked out from my room at Waikiki Beach, partly blocked by an intervening hotel (photo 26). Later we had our farewell dinner, where everyone made their emotional farewells to newfound friends and fellow palm fanatics. On Sunday morning, it was the shuttle to the airport and long flights to return to our normal lives with visions of tropical paradises in our heads that will not soon fade.