Q: What are those gorgeous silvery street and park trees? Some are at Sandys Beach, some Giant ones are on Pa`alea street in Palolo Valley, and some are at Ala Moana beach park. Please inform us about these
Mahalo, M. Silva, Palolo
A: Silver buttonwood trees! AKA Sea Mulberry, or Button Mangrove. Conocarpus erecta is the Latin name. they grow naturally in mangrove swamps and are in the Combretaceae plant family, they have a very interesting horticultural history that I am happy to share.
As you may know they are very wind resistant, xeric (drought tolerant) and salt tolerant. The bark and gnarly trunks are very attractive, especially as the trees mature. You can make lovely lei with them. Keiki can make a fun lei using masking tape and the leaves – easy and gorgeous!
At Lei Day in Kapiolani Park this year (and a HUGE mahalo to all the dedicated City of Honolulu, Parks and Recreation and Honolulu Botanical Garden Employees and Volunteers, who organized and coordinated that major public, free event in our park) we saw some fab lei, using various parts of silver button wood trees. Some used the fruit clusters, some used the leaves, some crafted the leaves into silver “rose” buds and so on.
Our late mentor Paul Weissich had just become Director of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens (HBG) in 1957. He was reviewing all of the interesting plants growing in the nursery and lath houses at Foster Botanical garden (FBG).
Weissich found a flat of seedlings. Some were green and some were silvery. One keiki was super silvery.
He selected the silveriest of the silvers and had them potted up into larger individual pots. The best, consistently silver one was selected and more were propagated from air layers. He watched over them and had the expert plant propagators nurture and grow them up. This is a prime example of ‘Horticultural selection’.
He planted a bunch of them at Ala Moana beach park, which was an adjunct Botanic garden back in those days (and still has his legacy of tough, salt tolerant interesting, rare and unusual trees growing).
A mixed silver and green hedge of them is still growing today around the tennis courts at McCoy pavilion.
One of the silveriest was planted at Foster Garden and its gnarly and sprawly and has a growth habit something like an ancient time gnarled Olive tree. We have been talking about making this an Exceptional Tree.
Over the years more of the silvery trees were grown and planted in beach parks like Sandys and as shady tough street trees in Oahu neighborhoods. They make a tough specimen tree (especially nice when up lit with solar lights for your “Moon Light Garden”), a good hedge or windbreak.
Button woods are native to a broad area from the Bahamas, to the Caribbean coastal tropics and all the way to West tropical Africa.
This is one of the many Horticultural legacies of Paul Weissich who passed away this year at age 93. He really grew our beautiful and amazing botanic gardens here on Oahu. His legacy is our five Honolulu Botanical Gardens: Foster Lili’uokalani, Wahiawa, Koko Crater and Ho`omaluhia, as well as people like me and my Husband Clark whose career and lives he nurtured, just like that flat of keiki silver buttonwood trees all those years ago!