Today, we’re celebrating ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua Day, and I’m writing about trees for the third day in a row. (Don’t worry; I’m not sharing poetry again today!)
We planted a two-foot-tall ‘ōhi‘a (Metrosideros polymorpha) in our yard about a year ago. As I tend to do, I use natural fertilizer to give the trees a head start. By natural, I mean, dead birds. I jokingly say that I’ve been known to scrape a dead chicken off the road and toss it in the ground before planting a tree. Maybe I’m not entirely joking. Maybe I didn’t have to scrape it off the road.
I got started doing this kind of natural fertilizing after our dog Penny died. When we buried her, our neighbor insisted on giving us a Royal palm to plant on top of her, and the tree thrived. So, now we do it whenever we can. Our yard is basically a bird cemetery.
Anyway, the ‘ōhi‘a thrived for the first few months. Then, I went to see my Dad for a couple weeks last August. When I returned, the tree was infested with ants. It was like the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles—bumper to bumper with ants. So many ants.
I pulled out my copy of Kerin Rosenberger’s Growing Hawaii’s Native Plants and read about the destructive nature of ants. “They farm sucking insects (such as aphids, scales, and mealybugs) for the honeydew these insects produce.” They farm them. As in grow them? Create favorable conditions for them to survive? Ants are pretty sneaky.
I saw some leaves with a white powdery substance on their underside. Also, some with tiny web-like threads, so in addition to an ant problem, I had other things going on, too.
According to Kerin, I needed to control the ants before dealing with the other problems. She gave some options based on the severity of the ant situation. I didn’t mess around. I went for the remedy for a severe problem. That was a mixture of boric acid, and it worked! No more ants. Next, I treated the tree-to-be for whiteflies and spider mites by spraying a diluted mixture of Ivory Liquid dish soap on the leaves, top and bottom.
Now, after a particularly rainy winter, the patches of branches where I lost leaves are turning red, the sign of new leaves in Metrosideros polymorpha var. glaberrima. Other leaf characteristics are coded in the scientific name of this variety. The leaves are smooth and shiny—glabrous—as opposed to hairy—or pubescent” in plant-speak.
We recently planted other natives around our ‘ōhi‘a to keep her company and remind her of her native Hawaiian nature, including ‘uki’uki, a clumping herb with spiky leaves, and ‘ākia, a low-growing shrub with gray-green leaves and clusters of tiny tubular yellow flowers.
‘Ōhi‘a are notoriously slow growers. Now that she’s doing better, hopefully, she’ll hit a growth spurt and double in size by ‘Ōhi’a Lehua Day 2021. Here’s hoping she also produces her first blossom by then, too. Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye out for ants.
Hawaii’s COVID-19 case count edged up by three to 604 today. Kauai once again stays steady at 21. However, Governor Ige extended our stay-at-home order through May 31. The 14-day quarantine for arrivals in Hawaii continues, as well.