Succulent plants can be fun and easy to grow and care for. They may even help protect your home and garden from wildfire. They are considered “less thirsty” plants, helping to conserve water in our gardens and known to flourish in a Hawaii style xeriscape.
Some succulents are perfectly adapted for our humid Hawaiian climate, and some do not do well in Hawaii. The ones that don’t may prefer a Mediterranean climate like that of California. These plants typically seem to grow okay in Hawaii, and then suddenly they melt, wither and fade away and …. It’s NOT your fault! Ice plant is a good example of these types of plants. Native to South Africa, it’s somewhat of an alien pest in California, yet looks great along their freeway embankments and coastal roadways. In Hawaii these plants will grow a year or two, seem to be doing well, then fade away. We had a nice planting of it at the Halawa Xeriscape Garden on a slope, but its pau now.
Aloe and Jade plants are considered some of our best gel filled plants for Hawaii gardens. Not only are they sturdy and easy to grow, they also will reward you with a flower now and then. (Many of our Aloe species bloom in our Hawaiian winter, sending up a pretty lily like orange or red flower spike).
So which epic native Hawaiian succulent plants grow best in Hawaii?
Hinahina the Lei Flower of Kaho`olawe is one of the most beautiful. It’s durable in the wild, in harsh HOT, ehukai air-filled areas.
Our native Hawaiian `ihi or Portulaca species are succulent and tough, with very pretty flowers. Portulaca molokiniensis is one of the most striking, with clusters of golden-yellow flowers and a squat succulent growth habit.
`Ala`ala wai nui our Hawaiian Peperomias are a cute succulent plant with many native species from various dry land and wetland habitats. In wet places, they can grow happily on big pohaku or boulders, or epiphytically up in trees. These native habitats have perfect drainage. Something we need to try to horticulturally replicate when we grow them in our gardens.
A classic fire story comes to us from California. A big fire was sweeping through a San Diego neighborhood. Everyone evacuated. Many homes and gardens were torched. There also was an artist lady, with no time for fussy gardening or watering, who had planted a low garden full of succulents including massive aloe plants. The one giant aloe near her art studio was basically creditied with saving her house. Though the plant burnt, it was full of gel. Its heart of moisture and water stored in its tissues slowed down the fire enough to save the home. The aloe plant also managed to survive and with time revived after the fire.
If you live in a wildfire prone area, you might consider a low scape including succulents. We have many that are native to Hawaii.
Coastal and dry forest plants have adaptations to survive and thrive in hot dry salty windy areas. Portulacca molokinienis or Molokini `ihi is one of the cutest, with a fat stalk, rosettes of succulent leaves and clusters of golden-yellow flowers.
We have other native Portulaccas, which we call `ihi. They can have white, pink or yellow flowers. Most are easy to grow from cuttings, or can be grown from seeds.
Hinahina, the lei flower of Kahoolawe has the most gorgeous silvery rosettes of leaves and curled flower spikes of tiny white fragrant flowers. Stunning in the garden and very xeric once established.
The rare Alula, Brighamia citrina, native to the pali, steep cliff areas and today found only along Kalalau on Kauai, is being saved by gardeners who love its fat stalk, clusters of leaves and long tubular fragrant blossoms.
All of these native Hawaiian succulents need slug and snail protection. Surround them with coarse black or red cinder, egg shells or a ring of used coffee grounds. Copper strips and food grade diatomaceous earth also help to repel slugs and snails.
Gardener vigilance is important too. Check on them at night or after heavy rains and manually remove slugs using a plastic bag to grab and then dispose of them. Or do like my kolohe neighbor does, poke ‘em jubilantly with his old fishing spear and then dunk them in a bucket of soapy water, then bag them into the trash bin.