While visiting Kaho'olawe last October, I came across this beauty eking out an existence in the parched landscape. It's the endemic Hawaiian poppy, pua kala, which translates as thorny flower, and indeed, these delicate blooms are expertly defended by prickly bluish-green leaves, stems, and seed capsules. This deterrent, combined with a bright yellow sap of bitter alkaloids, keeps even ever-munching cattle from grazing on it. The only native poppy, Argemone glauca has exquisite bright white petals surrounded by a deep yellow center of stamens and a purple stigma. It can be found on the dry leeward slopes of all the MHI, upward to around 1700 feet. Its preference for full sun and dry conditions makes it a great choice for xeriscape gardens. The yellow poppy you are more likely to come across is the non-native Mexican poppy, Argemone mexicana, which is naturalized in the islands.
Considered by many to be among the most beautiful of the tropical trees, ōhiʻaʻ ai certainly delivers in the color department. Many are flowering now, in March or April, with the pom-pomish blossoms bursting along the branches as well as the trunk of the tree. When they shed their many stamens, incredible pink to purplish carpets can be found, giving hikers another reason to hit the trails (there is also a variety with white flowers). The fruit generally mature in summer and fall (though this is variable) with two or three, sometimes even four harvests! Apple-like in skin color, more pear-like in shape and taste, the fruit are small, just two to three inches long, and delicate in taste as well as staying power - their tendency to bruise easily means that they are best enjoyed right away, making them a special island treat. Mountain apple preserves and pickling are alternate routes. Brought to Hawaii by the early Polynesians, this canoe plant was a true "giving tree," providing food, shade, medicine, wood, and dye. Its giving continues through the present in home landscapes as well as wet lowland forests, usually on the windward sides of our islands.
It was at Waimea Canyon that I first saw these smallest of the tropicbirds, the koaʻeʻkea. They soared, circled and displayed in courtship ritual, and were easily identifiable with their fabulous tails, black diagonal steaks across their wings, and black stripe along the eyes. They favor steep-sided cliffs for nesting and rearing their young, and are rarely seen off the wing otherwise. Though they are tremendous fliers that can sustain long oceanic foraging trips, their stubby legs make them ungainly on land. A single splotchy egg is laid cliffside, but forks of trees, as well as in scrapes in the ground will also suffice for nests. When not breeding, the white-tailed tropic bird forages at sea. Mālolo are a favorite food, which they can take in flight, but they are also known to take the plunge, hovering above their prey and then diving steeply right into the drink, seizing their hapless prey with their stout and serrated bill.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.