Succulents are perfect for your Hawaii garden.
Succulent plants can be fun and easy to grow and care for. They can even help protect your home and garden from wildfire. They are less thirsty plants, perfect to conserve on water in our gardens and grow a Hawaii style xeriscape. Some are perfectly adapted for our humid Hawaiian climate.
Others are not so good in Hawaii. They may prefer a Mediterranean climate like that of California. These may grow OK at first here in Hawaii, and then they “melt”. They just wither and fade away and …. It’s NOT your fault! Ice plant is an example of one of these plants. Native to South Africa, it will grow a year or two in Hawaii, seem to be doing well and then fades 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 some of our best gel filled plants for Hawaii gardens. Not only are they tough and easy, but 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).
We also have many epic native Hawaiian succulent plants. Hinahina the Lei Flower of Kaho’olawe is one of the most beautiful. It’s tough 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 also a cute succulent plant with many native species from various dryland 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 and horticulturally replicate when we grow them in our gardens.
If you live in a wildfire prone area, you might consider a low scape including succulents. You can find many that are native to and grow well in Hawaii.
In a classic succulent vs fire story from California, a huge wildfire was sweeping through a San Diego, California neighborhood, many homes and gardens were destroyed. Yet one (artist) lady had grown a low maintenance garden full of succulents including Aloe. It was a giant Aloe plant that is credited with helping save her house. Though it burnt and appeared dead, its heart was full of moisture and the water stored in its tissues slowed the fire long enough to save the home. The aloe also survived and with time revived after the fire.
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. They can also 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. Super gorgeous 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 good 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.
Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst is a landscaping consultant, gardener trainer and specialty VIP garden guide. She has been a professional horticulturalist for more than 33 years and is a Certified Arborist. You can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 739-5594.