Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Growing the Hawaiian Ohelo Berry

Ohelo (Vaccinium reticulatum) is a small, native Hawaiian shrub in the cranberry family, commonly found at high elevations on the islands of Maui and Hawaii. It is abundant in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and Volcano area. The berry is prized for making jams, jellies and pie filling; colors range from bright red to yellows and oranges. 

Fragile habitats can often be disturbed as people search the countryside for this delectable berry.  This is one reason why horticulturist Francis T.P. Zee, with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo, Hawaii, began evaluating ohelo for small farm production and ornamental use. His team has created the new cultivar called "Kilauea" and selected it for berry production.

Individuals can grow their own ohelo plants from seed. The seeds are tiny, but readily germinated under 20-30 percent shade in a well-watered and well-drained potting mixture.   Older potted 'ōhelo plants can be trained into a bonsai for an office or home. Plants may also be started from cuttings.  They may take a while to root, in one study 60% of the cuttings rooted in 3 months.

Ohelo berry flowering occurs throughout the year, but it is most abundant from April to September. Since the berries take 50 to 60 days to ripen, substantial quantities of mature berries are available beginning in June.  Color is not necessarily an indication of ripeness. How well the plants will grow at various locations is still unknown.

For more information, obtain a copy of the CTAHR publication, Producing Potted Ornamental Ohelo, at the local CTAHR office or their website at Farmers’ markets on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Makuu and Waimea markets, have from time to time sold ohelo berry plants.