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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

Poppies, beans can flourish in Hawai'i's environment

By Heidi Bornhorst

It's so inspiring to see the colorful brochures and glossy photos of luscious blooms in catalogs and garden magazines, but so many seem designed only for Mainland climates. Some of these plants will flourish here in our Hawai'i gardens, but many will not.

I recently got one of those color photo-packed mailings from the National Gardening Bureau, proclaiming this the year of the poppy and bean. I always look for the Hawaiian garden translation in these press releases, so here you go:

We all know that we need to eat more beans, so maybe we should grow them in our gardens or support the nearest bean farmer. Beans are low in calories (about 31 calories for one cup of cooked beans) and have vitamins A, B and C, calcium, phosphorous and iron, as well as protein and fiber. Amino acids are broken down from protein during our digestion; these are the building blocks of the body. Folacin or folic acid contributes to cell growth and the formation of red blood cells, as well as digestion and the nervous system. So you just can't go wrong growing and eating beans.

Beans are a fairly easy and fun crop to raise in Hawai'i. You can grow bush or pole beans (poles are more productive and easier to pick). You can grow string beans, lima beans, scarlet runners or whatever. Tropical wing beans are a winner, productive and most impressive for the gourmet potluck.

For keiki, growing their own and seeing the wonder of a seed turning into an edible plant may help them decide to eat more beans!

Poppies are cute and colorful and some do well in Hawai'i. The annual ones grown from seeds are probably our best bet. They come in a range of colors from vibrant to subdued, from deepest crimson, bright orange and clear yellow, to soft pink, dusky rose, lilac and cream. Flowers come in single, double and semi-double. The flower can be minute, or up to 7 inches across.

We also have a great native Hawaiian poppy: pua kala, Argemone glauca, or the Hawaiian prickly poppy. Recently some Hawai'i plant people spotted this or something very similar for big bucks on eBay.

This is a white poppy with a deep purple center. The petals are white and somewhat fragile. This is one of a handful of native plants that have prickles and spines on the leaves and stems, and lots of pokey protrusions on the seed pods. One theory about thorny native Hawaiian plants is that the thorns and prickles were to repel the voracious beaks of a 3-foot tall extinct flightless goose that once inhabited the lowlands of our islands.

Q. Driving along the freeway near Fort Shafter I saw some gorgeous white coral trees in bloom. Are these native Hawaiian wiliwili? They are on the mauka side in a nice grove. They are very pretty for all of us lucky commuters, whatever they are.

A. These non-native flowering trees, known as coral tree or tiger's claw, are from elsewhere in the Pacific, and are known scientifically as Erythrina variegata.

This species of Erythrina blooms in spring in Hawai'i, so these are right on schedule. There is a grove with some native Hawaiian wiliwili farther 'ewa on the freeway and on the makai side from the blooming white ones you describe. These should be in bloom in early summer. Native Hawaiian wiliwili usually bloom on leafless trees in the summer. The flowers are in delightful pastels: light yellow, green or apricot. The seeds of the native are bright red or orange, and there are only one or two seeds per pod.

Erythrina variegata has bright red or white flowers and many deep burgundy seeds per pod. The seeds look to me like kidney beans.

There is also a more common red form of the coral tree in brilliant bloom all over the Islands. There is a large grove on Magic Island, and there are many trees at UH-Manoa.

Many other interesting species of Erythrina are also in bloom. Check out the plant collections of the coral trees at Waimea Arboretum, at National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kaua'i and at Ho'omaluhia Botanic Garden in Kane'ohe.

Heidi Bornhorst is director of the city's botanical gardens — Foster, Lili'uokalani, Wahiawa, Koko Crater, Ho'omaluhia. Write to her c/o The Advertiser Homestyle section, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Or e-mail islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com.