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Saturday, August 7, 2021

Medicinal Teas of Hawaii: Mamaki and Ko’oko’olau



Mamaki (Pipturus albidus)  is a Hawaiian endemic plant occurring on all the main Hawaiian Islands except Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe. It grows in moist to wet forests at elevations ranging from close to sea level to 6,000 feet. Mamaki ranges in height from 6 to 20 feet tall.

Dried or fresh mamaki leaves are used to make a tea often drunk by those feeling lethargic. The tea is also used to help with many internal disorders for the stomach, colon, bladder, liver, and bowels.  The fruit is eaten as a laxative or for stomach, colon and digestive problems. Infused leaves can be used in treatment for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver problems, and bladder problems.  In some people mamaki can cause mild agitation or insomnia.





Mamaki is the primary food source for caterpillars of the native Kamehameha butterfly. Planting this shrub in the garden will provide food for the butterfly as well as a healthy, invigorating tea for the gardener.

Mamaki is a highly variable plant. The leaves are dark-green on the top and white to gray underneath. Some varieties have reddish veins.  It is generally not suited for hot, dry coastal settings, but will grow well in urban landscapes with some shading. It will also do well planted in containers in part shade. The red-veined varieties appear to tolerate full sun better than green-leaved varieties. The mature plant recovers after pruning if no more than one-third is removed.

Mamake plants are usually propagated from seed. The fruit can be ripened in a plastic bag to soften the pulp. Seeds are then removed from the pulp by rubbing the fruit in a strainer under running water. The viable seeds will sink and the fruit pulp and other debris can be poured off. Seeds then need to be dried on a paper towel and stored. Once planted, seedlings will thrive in a well-drained soil in a semi-shaded to shaded location.  The plants can also be propagated from cuttings.   


Ko’oko’olau Bidens menziesii is in the sunflower or aster family.  It can be an annual or perennial shrub, ranging from 3 to 12 feet in height, growing in a wide range of habitats. The plant is found on Molokai and West Maui and on the leeward slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island.  It is easy to grow, preferring full sun and light to moderate watering. It grows well as a potted patio plant.

Ko’oko’olau was widely used by Hawaiians prior to European arrival. Its leaves were used as a revitalizing tea. Flowers were used to stimulate appetite. Today the tea is still sold; however, Bidens pilosa is often the species incorrectly labeled and sold as the traditional Hawaiian tea. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Squash Plants Produce Lots of Bloom But Little Fruit


 
 Squash, along with melons and cucumbers belong to the same plant family called cucurbits (cucurbitaceae). These vegetable plants bear two kinds of flowers on the same plant, male and female.  In order to produce fruit, the pollen from the male flower must be transferred to the female flower. Since the pollen of cucurbits is sticky, wind-blown pollination will not occur. Instead, insects do the major pollination work –honeybees being the main workers.  So, if bees aren’t frequenting your garden, for whatever reason, the fruit set on your squash, cucumbers and melons will be poor. 

Hand pollination, although a tedious chore, can be accomplished by transferring the pollen from the male flower to the female flower, often done with a small artist’s paintbrush.  Female flowers can easily be distinguished from the males by the presence of a miniature fruit at the base of the flower. 

Sometimes gardeners are concerned because none of the first blooms produce  fruit.  This is because the first flowers produced on the plants will be male. In time, female flowers are produced.  Also remember that cucumbers, melons and squash do not cross-pollinate; a cucumber will not cross with a melon; a squash will not cross with a cucumber, etc.  But within each species, cross pollination often occurs. A zucchini squash can pollinate a crookneck squash, and a Crenshaw melon can pollinate a Casaba melon.  Planting the seeds from these crosses will produce fruit that will be different from either parent.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Gold Dust Day Gecko



The Gold Dust Day Gecko, a native to Madagascar, sometimes referred to as the Madagascar Day Gecko, does well in a tropical climate. Unlike most geckos, it is a diurnal animal, active during the day. They are territorial animals; males are especially aggressive towards other males.

These geckos are very colorful, usually bright green or a yellowish green. Halfway down their backs, they have three red teardrop markings. A blue shade is present around the eyes with bright gold markings on the back and neck. They feed on various insects and other invertebrates and are capable of eating other smaller lizards. They also eat soft, sweet fruit as well as pollen and nectar from flowers.  But they don’t bite humans.

Although these geckos will come into the house, probably looking for food, they are an arboreal species, spending most of their time in trees. If exclusion is desired, treat them as you would mice, rats and cockroaches; make sure to screen all windows, doors, ventilation passages and any small openings into the house.

Another species of gecko is the House Gecko, residing with humans in homes rather than in the wilderness. Being aggressive, this pale brown gecko drives other species away from the house. They are primarily nocturnal.

There are over 900 species of geckos worldwide, but only seven or eight reside in Hawai`i. Geckos are the only lizards who are able to make sounds, other than hissing.  Feeding on cockroaches, mosquitoes, ants, termites and moths, geckos are beneficial to home owners.

It has been thought that geckos are able to run up and down walls and ceilings due to tiny suction cups on their toe pads. However, recently scientists found that geckos have a network of tiny hairs and pads on their feet. With millions of hairs on each foot, the combined attraction of the weak electrical forces allow the gecko to stick to virtually any surface, even polished glass.