MauiScapes BLOG

MauiScapes BLOG

The World of Bananas in Hawaii: Then and Now – a book review

By Dr. Angela Kepler and Francis Rust
Review by Olin EricksonMauiscapes

A few words of introduction cannot begin to describe the wealth of information found in this book. It begins with the amazing seafaring migrations of pacific islanders who brought banana varieties (mai’a in Hawaiian) with them. Over time the mai’a evolved into distinct Hawaiian varieties. There is an extensive discussion of the origins, habitat, propagation and uses of all distinct varieties complete with pictures plants legends and folklore. These Hawaiian Mai’a especially when cooked are known to be the tastiest bananas on earth. It is no wonder that Angela and Francis proclaim that their staple carbohydrate is the traditional Hawaiian bananas. They even provide the recipes they use for cooking and serving bananas.

But that was then, how about now. There is a complete discussion of the bananas introduced into Hawaii post-contact. Again the origins, habitat, propagation, and uses are thoroughly discussed. There is also a section on planting, harvesting, fertilization, pests and pest control. This book is truly a work of passion. One to be treasured!
Below are some of the notes and highlights of her presentation:
  • Banana’s originate in Southeast Asia.
  • They are rich in vitamin C and Potassium.
  • Hawaii has had over 100 varieties of banana’s, including edible, inedible and ornamental varieties.
  • “Mai’a” – Hawaiian for “banana”
  • “Hina’ea” – Hawaiian goddess of the banana.
  • Circa 1350 pacific travelers introduced “canoe plants” that included the pacific plantains and pacific bananas that we are familiar with today.
  • Canoe banana’s are polynesian heirlooms, they have been very important to Hawaiian culture. One variety in particular is the “Mai’a Maoli” which is common to the west Maui mountains.
  • Pacific plantains include 3 main varieties; Maia Maoli, Maia Pop’ulu & Maia Iholena.
  • Mai’a Maoli – Large sausage like fruit, plants can be found in the EMI areas of Maui.
  • Mai’a Pop’ulu – Short fat fruit, good cooking banana.
  • Mai’a Ihalena – Extremely rare, very beau- tiful, Large fruit & Dark leaf, Lots of Keiki, short stature, wind resistant.
  • Circa 1820 polynesians introduced the Pacific Fei & Maia Hapi varieties.
  • Mai’a Fei – Upright bunches, good cooking banana
  • Mai’a Hapi – “pregnant banana”, very sweet & a good dessert banana, bunch emerges from within the stock.
Of the 100 Hawaiian varieties that have been recorded many of them are dwindling away. Since 1990, 17-20 species are extinct or most likely extinct. 14 + species are critically endangered, up to 100 plants state wide. Most of the Hawaiian bananas are endangered, 500-2500 plants.

Of the 100 Hawaiian varieties that have been recorded many of them are dwindling away. Since 1990, 17-20 species are extinct or most likely extinct. 14 + species are critically endangered, up to 100 plants state wide. Most of the Hawaiian bananas are endangered, 500-2500 plants.

40 species are currently present of the original 100+ varieties of Hawaiian banana’s, 19 species are still present and living in our natural habitat.

We are losing our precious Hawaiian banana strains to: neglect, invasive plants, development, disease, bugs and lack of education! At the rate things are going, we will not have any Hawaiian banana’s left in the wilderness in the next 10-20 years! Together we can all work together to prevent the loss of this important staple and part of polynesian culture.

Dr. Angela Kepler

Common NON- Hawaiian banana varieties growing today:

  • Dwarf Brazilian – Good variety to grow, short stock
  • Ice cream – Sweet tasting, short stock 10-15′
  • Cuban & Dwarf Red – Good tasting banana

Proper Banana plant care:

  • Keep your banana clumps free of grass and weeds growing around and inside of the clump. Use mulch to help keep weeds down and promote
    healthy soil and healthy keiki (new sprouts).
  • Cut down old stocks and use leaves for mulch, dispose of the stock. Inspect plants for insects, fungus and viruses. Remove any infected leaves and dispose of properly.
  • Organic fertilizer are best for banana’s. It is typical for banana’s to have calcium and boron deficiencies. Solutions: Add dolomite & 1-2 tsp of borax per plant.

Varieties to Avoid!:

  • Chinese Banana – Tends to attract Bunchy Top Virus

Pest & Diseases:

  • Corm Weevils – A bug/pest problem. They bury into corms underground and jeopardize the structure of the clump. Symptoms will always include black hole signs inside the stock.
  • Black Sigatoka – A fungal problem. This disease destroys the banana leaves and crop yields can be significantly reduced. Hard to control can use fungicides, disease resistant varieties are being bred. Some varieties are more resistant than others.
  • Banana Bunchy Top Virus – A virus problem that is not curable!!
    Signs of virus will include:, “J” – Hooks near the mid-rib of the leaf. Normal veins should be white Infected veins will be green & “dotted”.
    Prominent in Pukalani & Kihei!!!
    Spread by infected Aphids & Humans. Do not transport infected material, Report to MISC and follow proper handling procedures.

All About Palms

by Olin Erickson — Certified Arborist and Past Malp Board President

All palms are classified into the scientific family Aracecea. Within that family of palms there are approximately 200 genera making up a total of over 2,600 different species or palm varieties. One type of genera consists of all the native Hawaiian palms, Pritchardia. There are approximately 29 species of Pritchardia palms endemic to Hawaii, known locally as Loulu palms. Every island has its own unique species that grows distinctly to its specific habitat. Maui has distinct species that are found only in certain areas on the island. Common Pritchardia’s of Maui include; P. arecina & P. forbesiana.

Most palms are quite easy to grow but take time to mature. Many varieties are even drought tolerant once established. No matter where you live on Maui there is a palm variety that is perfectly suited for your yard. Whether it be a miniature 4 foot small palm or one that grows to over 80 feet tall. Palms can be planted along driveways and footpaths, they can be used to supplement shade or serve as a visual barrier. Palms can also be used as a focal point planted alone in a garden or yard. Not only are palms planted for their beauty and shade but also for their food such as dates, coconuts an acai just to name a few. Palms can serve a purpose by sustaining high storm winds without major damage as well as reducing hillside erosion. Despite the function your palms serve, they will always remind you that you live in a tropical climate and paradise is only steps away.

There are a few basic rules to follow when growing palms. First and foremost, know your palm and its growth habits and requirements. Most importantly don’t damage the top most central spear. If this young leaf frond is damaged or dies the overall health of the tree becomes compromised. Secondly, be careful not to damage the root strands (especially near the palm base). Damaged roots die back to the trunk of the palm and the root regeneration can take a long time. When transplanting a palm already in the ground, make sure to dig up as much of the immediate root stock as possible. Make the new hole 1.5 to 2 times bigger than the old hole. Once the palm is transplanted make sure it receives plenty of water for the first two weeks. Palms growing in Hawaii often lack potassium, so use fertilizers with a slightly higher source of potassium (K) such as a mixture of 12 – 4 – 12. Palms also respond well to fertilizers with traces of manganese and magnesium. Fertilize around the trunk under the entire canopy 2-3 time a year, less fertilizer is more. When maintaining your palms remember that unlike trees, palms do not heal wounds made to their trunks. When damage is done to the palm it will stay there forever. These holes can harbor insects and disease which will decrease the life span of the palm.

Most palms are quite easy to grow but take time to mature. Many varieties are even drought tolerant once established. No matter where you live on Maui there is a palm variety that is perfectly suited for your yard. Whether it be a miniature 4 foot small palm or one that grows to over 80 feet tall. Palms can be planted along driveways and footpaths, they can be used to supplement shade or serve as a visual barrier. Palms can also be used as a focal point planted alone in a garden or yard. Not only are palms planted for their beauty and shade but also for their food such as dates, coconuts an acai just to name a few. Palms can serve a purpose by sustaining high storm winds without major damage as well as reducing hillside erosion. Despite the function your palms serve, they will always remind you that you live in a tropical climate and paradise is only steps away.

There are a few basic rules to follow when growing palms. First and foremost, know your palm and its growth habits and requirements. Most importantly don’t damage the top most central spear. If this young leaf frond is damaged or dies the overall health of the tree becomes compromised. Secondly, be careful not to damage the root strands (especially near the palm base). Damaged roots die back to the trunk of the palm and the root regeneration can take a long time. When transplanting a palm already in the ground, make sure to dig up as much of the immediate root stock as possible. Make the new hole 1.5 to 2 times bigger than the old hole. Once the palm is transplanted make sure it receives plenty of water for the first two weeks. Palms growing in Hawaii often lack potassium, so use fertilizers with a slightly higher source of potassium (K) such as a mixture of 12 – 4 – 12. Palms also respond well to fertilizers with traces of manganese and magnesium. Fertilize around the trunk under the entire canopy 2-3 time a year, less fertilizer is more. When maintaining your palms remember that unlike trees, palms do not heal wounds made to their trunks. When damage is done to the palm it will stay there forever. These holes can harbor insects and disease which will decrease the life span of the palm.

Another important underlying factor in the success of cultivating any palm, plant or garden is the significance of the soil. The plants in the garden will only be as good as the soil they grow in. Fertile soil is precious. Organic compost material and time are the two most important ingredients for cultivating healthy soil. It will take time to establish active soil in areas that are deficient. With patience in palm growing you are guaranteed the gratitude of the beauty of all palms, young and mature and all that they can offer your garden and life.

Hawaii’s native palms are becoming rare in the wild. Competition for survival is fierce in our tropical climate and all too often the indigenous palms of Hawaii are overgrown by invasive plants or fall prey to rat/rodent predation. Therefore, native palms should be incorporated into each landscape design and introduced into other existing landscapes.

Recommended Palms

One recommended way to learn your palms is to study the botanical names first, this way there will be no confusion over commonly called palms of the same name. Also, another useful tool worth using is the google search engine using “images” as a search criteria so that way you can see the pictures of the palms. The following lists are a short example of their definitions.

Salt-Torerant Palms
  • Coccothrinax (some to great)
  • Cocos nucifera
  • Copernicia; giga, macroglossa
  • Livistona chinensis
  • Pritchardia; pacifica, thurstonii
  • Sabal etonia palmetto, uresana

Drought tolerant Palms
  • Bismarkia nobilis
  • Livistona chinensis
  • Rhapis palms
  • Roystonea; boriquena, lenis, violacea
  • Sabal; minor, palmetto, etonia, uresana
  • Syagrus Genus
  • Wodyetia bifurcata
Water Loving Palms
  • Archontophoenix purpurea
  • Crytostachys renda
  • Euterpe (most)
  • Pritchardia; hillebrandii, affinis
  • Clinistigma (many)
  • Licuala (most)
  • Roystonea princeps, regia
Small Palms
  • Areca; gupyana, ipot
  • Calyptocalyx (many)
  • Chamaedorea (most)
  • Heterospathe (many)
  • Pinanga (most)
  • Sabal etonia, minor
Where to get Palms

On Maui it can be sometimes hard to find palms other than coconut and Dypsis lutensis (commonly called Areca palm). Networking with landscapers and other industry people is a great source as well as using online sites like Craigslist.org. Here is a quick list of palm suppliers throughout Maui.

MAUI

West Side:
Ukumehame Nursery – 550 Ehenene Street, Lahaina – 661-9100
South Side:
Ki-Hana Nursery – 1746 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei – 879-1165
Central:
Tropical Gardens of Maui – 200 Iao Valley Rd., Wailuku – 244-3085
Upcountry:
Pukalani Plant – Makawao/Kula AG park – 572-8950
Kula Hardware – 3100 Lower Kula Rd., Kula – 876-0734
Ho’olawa Farms – Hana Hwy, Haiku – 575-5099
Aina Waipio Farms, LLC – Haiku – 572-4016

Big Island
Kapoho Palms – Papaya Farm Rd., Pahoa (orders can be mailed) – 808-936-2580

Collecting Palm Seeds