Norfolks make more folks happy
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
WAHIAWA ó Procrastinators hoping to purchase that perfect Christmas tree might try a stroll through the pines.
Helemano Farms, in Wahiawa, has thousands of Norfolk Island pine trees ready to cut and decorate. It's the first year the business has sold Christmas trees since it was established in 2000.
A retirement dream of the late Michael O'Brien, the 20-acre farm adjacent to Whitmore Village has about 15,000 trees. O'Brien, who had worked in the agriculture business for Dole for 40 years, died last year, said son Aaron O'Brien, who took over the farm.
"He wanted it for the people," said O'Brien, who owns a lychee farm and operates an agriculture service business. "He even had visions of a horse and buggy for the kids. He loved kids. And maybe at Halloween get pumpkins out here. People could pick the pumpkins."
Norfolk trees have been a favorite of many Island families for decades.
Hotels and airports have used them with Hawaiian-themed ornaments. Often the trees are available in pots, with people using them year after year until they get too big for indoors. Some of those ended up on a hillside on the road to Kailua, where people decorate them for Christmas and other occasions.
On the Windward side, Norito Tokushige, of Kahalu'u, sold the trees for 25 years until his death in 1996. His grandson Troy Enoki said people still come to the farm wanting to buy trees, but they're no longer sold.
"Usually we give them if they're old-time customers," said Troy, 15.
With the supply of Douglas, Noble and Fraser firs from the Mainland dwindling as Christmas nears, having a fresh-cut Norfolk pine could thwart the Grinch and ensure that there's a tree to brighten the home.
Several providers of the Mainland trees on O'ahu said they were out or nearly out of those and didn't expect to have any beyond this weekend.
Mele Turner of Forest Products, which is selling trees in Manoa and at Koko Marina in Hawai'i Kai, said he expects to be sold out by this weekend.
But in Ma'ili, Fainna Gouveia, who sells trees next to the 7-Eleven store, said Thursday that she still had more than 300 trees.
Maui tree farmer Warren McCord, who owns Kula Botanical Gardens and raises Monterey pines for Christmas, said he usually sells about 700 trees a year, but this year he's sold about 900. He won't be selling any after tomorrow.
Pat O'Brien, 63, Aaron's mother, said the original plants for Helemano Farms came from Lana'i, but others have been collected from around O'ahu. The O'Briens' idea to provide trees stemmed from their inability to get a Mainland tree while working for Dole in the Philippines, she said. They took Lana'i seedlings to the Philippines, planted them and were never without a tree while there.
The Norfolk pine, although not fragrant, has many good qualities ó such as not shedding needles and staying green longer, Pat O'Brien said.
At the end of Whitmore Avenue, the farm has Norfolk pines in a variety of shapes and sizes. The O'Briens will cut the trees for customers and wrap them in plastic netting.
Nanea Hamasaki, who was at Helemano Farms this week, said this would be her first Norfolk tree for Christmas and she didn't mind that it didn't have the pine smell. She and her daughter, Ilima, had been trying to find Mainland trees, heard about the farm on the radio and drove out from Salt Lake.
"They're not the kind I'm used to, but I like it," she said, after picking a tree.
The Hamasakis said they enjoyed walking up and down the rows of trees, looking for that perfect fit. "We always wait until the end," said Ilima Hamasaki. "I think we're going to come here from now on."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.