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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 21, 2005

Honohono an Island favorite

 •  Home and Garden Calendar

By Scot Mitamura

It makes no sense to me.

Why do people love the plants they love? Here's a good example: The honohono orchid, Dendrobium anosmum, has been popular in Hawai'i for many years.

Honohono in Hawaiian refers to the plants' growth habit of alternating leaves, very similar to the honohono grass (which actually is not a grass) or wandering Jew.

The honohono name refers to the leaves, but it is the flowers and not the leaves that people remember it by.

The honohono orchid blooms best when fertilized and watered more in summer than in winter.

Advertiser library photo • 2003

In fact, the leaves fall off before flowering. I sometimes wonder about plant taxonomists too, because anosmum, its Latin name, means scentless.

Whoever named the plant probably was looking at a dried specimen, but it is the honohono orchid flower's incredible scent that gets everyone crazy about them every year.

The honohono orchid originated in Southeast Asia, where it is widespread.

It has slender stems that can easily reach grow 4 or 5 feet long. Flower colors range from lavender, to light pink, to white, there is even a semi-alba (white with a bluish lip), as well as a striped variety.

Blooming season normally ranges from March into May, so there is time to prepare for it now.

Local hybridizers are always trying to produce new color forms and to extend the blooming season.

Here is another crazy thing about the honohono: It comes from areas with monsoon climates, very wet in the summer and dry in the winter.

This raises problems for orchid enthusiast here because our rainy season is the opposite.

To make them blossom, we need to remember to water and fertilize them heavily in the summer and dry them slightly in the winter.

I don't think you can overwater a honohono in the summer.

Remember when we used to use the rice rinse water for the honohono? Could the secret be the talc in the water, or that we had to wash rice every day?

The honohono can be grown on hapu'u (tree-fern fiber) chunks, or in coconuts or even on cork bark. I prefer to grow them in plastic pots, with a bark and peat-moss mixture, not only because I'm cheap but because the plastic pots allow me to give the plants optimum moisture.

A growing area which has bright indirect sunlight will give you the best results. A temperature range from 55 to 85 degrees is ideal.

A slight chill in the winter will induce a good flowering season.

Propagation is quite simple. In June and July, cut old stems into four-inch sections and lay them in a tray of sterile potting mix or peat moss. Remember, new plantlets will emerge only from nodes that have not flowered.

Keep them moist and shaded, watch for slugs, and get ready to share with your friends.

One important tip is to sterilize the cutting tool that you are using after each stem. The best way is to flame them with a propane torch or cigarette lighter. Most diseases are spread by dirty tools. Cuttings should flower in a couple of years.

Visit Foster Botanical Garden's orchid display, and you will see the honohono in bloom from March into April. You also can see honohono at the Kunia and Windward orchid shows.

Scot Mitamura is orchid horticulturist for the Honolulu botanical gardens. Reach him at hbg@honolulu.gov.