Tuberoses for our friendship garden

By Heidi Bornhorst

The fragrance of tuberose! One of my Mother’s favorites, as a lei of tuberose and yellow roses are what my dad got her for their simple wedding ceremony. She also loved the smell of pineapple, because my dad gifted her with those too!

I like them in a lei, combined with other flowers like roses, carnations or orchids.

Florists carry this fragrant lei and if you grow your own, imagine what flowers from your garden you can combine with tuberose?

It’s an old-fashioned flower.

We used to grow a lot of them here in Hawaii. When I worked at Evergreen nurseries in Waimanalo, in 1978, one of my friends there, was working a second job, harvesting tuberose.

Her name was Estralita, and she was from the PI and recently married.  I think her new family really made her work hard!  At two jobs and at home.  She said they harvested in the dark using headlamps.

She told me that her named meant “star” and how appropriate that she worked at night when the stars came out!

She taught me the saying ‘Mabuhay las Philippinas !!’  Long life to Filipino women!

I wonder what happened to her, as she was kind, nice FUN and hardworking.

Tuberoses remind me of her, and I say a special prayer for her happiness. 

I got some from Estralita back then and grew it in our family garden in Makiki.  It did well for a while and even sent up a flower spike.  But then it got a very bad infestation of mealy bugs.  I treated it but they were too severe, and the plant died. I was sad.

Maybe tuberose does not like Makiki black sand as a potting media? Or it needs cooler conditions. Time to do some research and find out!

​The other day I got an email from my friend Ruth Fujita, another great gardener.

She was offering us, her Budleys, tuberose bulbs. She had a big plant and dug it up, dried out the bulbs a bit and had some to share with da girls.

So, Rachel Morton and I went up there, after a visit to Foster garden to see the Triennial art exhibit.

Ruth shared how she got the tuberose bulbs:

Our niece Tia C. had gone traveling.  She needed omiyage for her epic Aunt Ruth and so in the airport she bought a bulb in a package.

Ruth grew them and was now sharing them with Lynne, Cheryl, Doris Susan Young, Annie, and me and Rachel.

Such an epitome of the Friendship Garden: Grow something with love (and good horticulture!) and then share it with your friends.

With rare plants, this is a Botanic Gardenconcept: Share it and keep good records. If yours dies, you know right where you can get a replacement.

With plants of sentiment like this tuberose, its mainly sharing the wealth and the stories.  But it will be epic for us all to see them grow and Bloom!

People call it a bulb but the roots are actually a rhizome (just like our fragrant gingers)

Fragrant, showy flowers in the late, HOT summertime lead many to plant tuberose bulbs. The scientific name is Polianthes tuberosa, and it also called the Polyanthus lily. It is in the Lily family, LILIACEAE.

Florists and nurseries sometimes “force” tuberose to bloom year round with artificial lighting.  

Tuberose has a strong and enticing fragrance makes it a popular plant in our Hawaii gardens. Clusters of large white blooms form on stalks that can reach 4 feet (1 m.) in height and rise from grass-like clumps.

Tuberose was discovered by explorers in Mexico as early as the 1500’s.  It was one of the first flowers to be imported to Europe, where it was very popular in Spain. 

It likes well drained, compost enriched soil.  It likes FULL SUN especially hot afternoon sun (which not all plants do) 

Plant them 2-3” deep.

In cold regions they dig out the roots in winter.  In Hawaii we can dig them out hand let them rest but not for too long or they will dry out.

There are single and double flowered varieties and now we are seeing them in different colors like yellow and pale pink.

Hinahina, Kipukai, Beach Heliotrope and relatives for LEI DAY

By Heidi Bornhorst

For many, many years I have been a Lei Day Volunteer at the Mayor’s Celebration at Kapi`olani park.  It is such an amazing event and I’ve learned and seen so much every year.  Since 1984 in fact !  Yikes

I was first asked to kokua with plant ID when I was working right across the street at the Honolulu Zoo as Zoo Horticulturist.  I was reluctant to leave work, even for a few hours,  as some of my landscape crew were on the kolohe side.

Kupuna Beatrice Krauss, our famed Ethnobotanist, was a fellow lei plant identifier and any time with her was a precious learning experience.  As she got older, she would ask me to drive her, and again, more time with someone so akamai and kind, a Hawaii woman Scientist, ahead of her time.

I told myself when Aunty Bea is pau I will be pau too.  But over the years I have realized what a gift it is to volunteer with this job.  We get to see all the contest lei as they are delivered at 7 a.m.   So amazing, creative and so much time and energy to grow, select, clean and prep and then craft the lei.  Timing is vital for freshness and for flowers, like ilima buds to be open.

One year there was a City-wide strike and we had to move the contest at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, they also roped me into being a judge.  Never again!  To me , all of them are winners.  Identifying the flowers, ferns, nuts and lei fibers is challenging but way easier for me!

This year there were some stunners, plants with mixed silvery patterns, in the Heliotrope family Boraginaceae.  We had native Hawaiian Hinahina, the lei flower of Kaho`olawe, an endemic native Hawaiian plant;  combined with Kipukai, an indigenous Hawaiian plant, and Beach Heliotrope Tree or Tahinu, which is an import, that looks and acts like a native coastal and xeric tree.

This twisty silvery lei combo was so amazing!  After doing our volunteer ID job  in the early morning we sometimes get a chance to talk to the lei makers.

I was talking to an inspiring and creative young lei maker, Mary Moriarty Jones.  I asked her where she collected all those lovely plants or if she grew them herself.  We talked about them all being in the Boraginaceae plant family.

One characteristic to identify this family is that the flowers are arranged in a helicoid cyme.  It twists to open like the fiddlehead of a fern, and the flowers bloom one by one along the curving floral stalk.

They also tend to have silvery hairs on their leaves.  These reflect light and give the silvery Hinahina color.  As a xeric adaptation to thrive in dry salty climates the silvery leaf hairs reflect light and also trap moisture and conserve it for the plant as it respires.

This silvery beauty to our eyes is how the plants have thrived for the millennia in harsh dry salty environments.

To grow them for the long term it’s good to understand where they came from and adapt your garden methods accordingly.  They need well drained soil and full sun.  They are more difficult to grow in pots than in the ground as they really need to spread their roots far and wide (not deep). They like daily watering to get established and then less and less water as their roots spread and adapt.

As my old boss and mentor Masa Yamauchi would say,  “Observe your plants closely and water only as needed”.

This is a skill we can all learn and cultivate.  Just as we can learn to grow our own rare and wonderful lei plants.