Kona PRA September 2012

39 posts in this topic

In September, 2011, my friends Frank, Mike & I made a morning visit to Donald Sanders's garden on the Kona side of the Big Island. It's at the 1600-foot elevation overlooking Kailua-Kona on the slopes of Hualalai, the third (very quiet, long-dormant) active volcano (last erupted in 1801) of the Big Island.

The slope of Donald's garden gives it a kind of drama missing from the gardens in the Puna District over near Hilo. The siting is reminiscent of certain California landscapes, but with a smooth, volcanic contour that I've only seen in California in the Cascade Range. Entering his house at the top floor from the upslope side, I felt like I was in a dream tropical version of Sausalito, the steep bayside town across the Golden Gate from San Francisco.

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Looking down toward Kailua-Kona you see the green trunk of a Pigafetta elata emerging from the downslope side of the house and towering over the roof.

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Frank takes Mike's portrait against the bizzie. See the Pigafetta (7 years old, I believe) up next to the house.

At this elevation, Donald is able to grow truly tropical species like Pigafetta alongside more cool-growing species like Hedyscepe canterburyana.

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View out from his lanai toward Kailua-Kona

Here's the crown of one of his Hedyscepe with a coconut crown above it.

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Among the many beautifully grown rare plants in Donald's garden is Cyathea dealbata, the silver tree fern known as ponga in New Zealand, where it is the national emblem. I had a hard time getting a good photo of it. I was thrilled to see one live; I don't know of any in public gardens in California, where I suspect it would thrive given the success of other NZ plants. Donald's has not yet begun to make spores.

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One of Donald's most stunning palms is Mauritiella. I took tons of photos.

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Another rare and captivating species that Donald grows is Aiphanes minima (syn. A. erosa). This is the most beautiful Aiphanes I have ever seen.

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[weather nerd alert: read on at your peril]

The climate on this side of the island is different from that of all the other Hawaiian Islands' leeward coasts. As in most parts of the world, the air temperature over the ocean in these latitudes drops as one rises in altitude. But at a certain elevation, the pattern of temperature's declining with height reverses briefly. For example, it may be 80F at sea level, 60F at 5000 feet above sea level, and then, surprisingly, 68F at the 7000-foot elevation. From there temperatures resume the normal pattern and start dropping again as you measure upward to the mountain summits. This reversal of the pattern is called a temperature inversion, because the expected gradient is turned upside-down. The same thing occurs on the California coast during the summer dry season but at a lower altitude, usually 800-3000 feet above sea level. Flying to Hawai'i from San Francisco in summer, I like to watch the flat coastal fog bank below slowly change character as the inversion-capped marine layer deepens, warms, and moistens along our southwesterly trajectory.

Here's why the South and North Kona Districts have a climate unique in Hawai'i: Because Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Hualalai poke up above the moist marine layer and its capping temperature inversion at 1200m - 2400m (~4000ft to ~8000ft), they block the bulk of the prevailing northeast trade winds embedded in that layer that bring showers to windward and mountain areas. The trade wind flow impeded, day/night convection patterns are able to set up along these leeward slopes. The air over the island warms up under the sunshine and creates a localized low-pressure effect, drawing moist marine air upslope. The Big Island acts as a kind of mini-continent. Clouds form in late morning and showers often fall in the afternoon, as they do in Florida's summers. From our hotel in Kailua-Kona I was only able to photograph the full height of Hualalai (8271ft/2521m above sea level) at dawn, before clouds began to form.

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Donald receives quite a bit of rain at his location. I believe he said 90 inches per year.

On the other islands, the trade winds blow all the way over the mountains, dropping their burden of moisture on the windward and mountain slopes and drying out as they descend the leeward slopes. That's why Honolulu, Lahaina, Wailea, and Po'ipu have nice, sunny weather and annual rainfall comparable to coastal California. The same is true of the Big Island's leeward Kohala coast, because the blocking mountain to its northeast, Kohala, is low enough, at 5480ft/1670m--and the island's narrow enough up there--to allow the trades to pass over, drop rain, and dry out on their descent. What about Maui, with its dormant volcano Haleakala at 10,000ft/3055m tall? While it also pierces the marine/trade wind layer and the inversion, it's not bulky enough to generate much of a lull in the leeward wind wake nor much convective action over its smaller land area.

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Donald specializes in species with primitive-looking foliage. Among palms this means he grows lots of the undivided-leaf species like Licuala orbicularis, Johannesteijsmannia, Chamaedorea brachypoda, and Pelagodoxa henryana. Donald will have to correct my species names. I mixed up his Pelagodoxa and Salacca but can't figure out where.

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One species that is doing a bit too well for him is Hyophorbe indica. It self-sows so readily in his garden that he worries it could become invasive on the Big Island.

His specimens are top-notch.

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Here's a nice combination of palms, centered on a Coccothrinax species. Looks like Dypsis lastelliana or D. leptocheilos on the left, Wodyetia in the back, and a Gaussia sp. on the right. Bring on the IDs please, Donald.

I love any and all Coccothrinax and dearly wish I could grow one of them. Anybody in New Zealand or Tasmania been able to grow C. montana?

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Dypsis madagascariensis, a pretty common species on the Big Island

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I was loving Syagrus amara.

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Socratea exorrhiza

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I love how they make trunks and stilt roots even as seedlings:

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Cryosophila sp - warscewiczii?

I have one as a houseplant and it's great.

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Hedyscepe in all its glory:

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Really cool flowers & fruit of Elais oleifera, a species I was lucky to see in habitat in Costa Rica but that's unusual in cultivation.

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Clinostigma sp.: always amazing

Which species might this be?

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Euterpe precatoria - variegated

Fantastic! Looking at this from two stories up on the lanai is mesmerizing.

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Açaí! (Euterpe oleracea)

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Massive Roystonea oleracea trunk:

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Aloe barberae (syn. A. bainesii), a SoCal favorite:

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Kieffer lime tree:

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Donald was a warm and welcoming host, full of information and stories about his plants and where he found them. His garden is a very special place high above the Kona Coast.

Here I am in a coconut finale to our PRA half a year ago. The tree I'm standing under was a jumbo variety. I paid more attention to coconut varieties than I had in the past on this trip. The one in the long shot is a particularly gracile variety.

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Great photos and commentary-thanks!

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Jason,

Great photos and interesting and informative commentary! Really enjoyed your thoroughness and detail. And Donald - beautiful garden - one of these days I will definitely stop by! Looking forward to it! :)

Bo-Göran

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Thank you Jason for those amazing pictures . All Donald's palms look perfect . This is a climate i could get used to ,imagine growing Hedyscepe in the same garden as Coconuts .

What are the average winter /summer night and day averages Jason ?

Troy

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Thank you Jason for those amazing pictures . All Donald's palms look perfect . This is a climate i could get used to ,imagine growing Hedyscepe in the same garden as Coconuts .

What are the average winter /summer night and day averages Jason ?

Troy

Troy,

Here is a weather station of a friend of mine that is very close to Don at an almost identical elevation. If you scroll down, you will see a graph of the whole year - high/low temps.

http://www.turquoise.net/~cmoss/weather/Current_Vantage_Pro.htm

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Was looking for a Panama Hat Plant (Carludovica palmata) and saw one of Don's posts were he mentioned having some in his garden. We contacted him about a source on the Big Island, which resulted in an invitation to visit. We went up one afternoon last Spring, had a great visit - both with the garden and with his dogs - and on the way out he gave us a C. palmata to take with us. True aloha - Thanks, again, Don - gmp

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Here's a link to my Flickr set from which these photos came.

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really cool pix! enjoyed them immensely!

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Really nice Jason! Thanks for posting!

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Great photos love the Euterpe's. the first is just a perfect specimen.

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My goodness, fantastic palms, thanks for posting.

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Great photos love the Euterpe's. the first is just a perfect specimen.

Agreed! Dig those Euterpes!

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Excellent photos and commentary, Jason. I greatly appreciate seeing photos of Donald Sanders' garden, one not seen often enough here on PalmTalk. Thanks for all the effort made to post the photos. :)

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Thanks for the PRA pictures Jason, very nice. I've been to Donald's garden, both the plantings and setting are spectacular. Donald really has some nice non-palm specimens as well.

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It's a really special spot, so glad to share it.

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Mahalo Jason for sharing the great photos - Donald was our first palm pal when we moved here to Kailua-Kona from San Fran Bay Area where we were active members in the IPS N Calif Chapter - Donald's garden is amazing and ever-changing over the past 6 years we've lived here - he is a great person to contact if members plan to travel to Big Island and would like to schedule a tour of his spectacular Kona-side palm paradise

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So beautifull!

Thanks for sharing, Jason!

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Great pictures! The climate there looks ideal, it seems to be something like our winter months are if there are no cold fronts, so basically the perfect temperature to live in. The palm selection seems awesome too, just another reason why Hawaii sounds so appealing!!

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Wow! Everything looks really well grown but without too much moss and clear skies...might just be better than the east side. The Hedyscepe and coconuts are both the picture of health too. Nice pictures and interesting info!

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Looks like fun. Such good growth rates in your volcanic soil. No fair!!!

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