This summer we spent two weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. On our last day we had extra time on our hands since our flight home didn’t leave until 9 p.m. We decided to drive up to the cloud forest above Kona, located in an area called Kaloko Mauka. The best way to see it is to visit the privately owned 70-acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. From the description on their web site, it sounds like very special place:
Much of the sanctuary is still covered with native plants. In some designated areas of the property, a fascinating plethora of non-indigenous plants that are carefully managed have been added, enhancing the variety of fragrance and color.
The sanctuary abounds with ancient Koa, Ohia, over 100 varieties of bamboo, and gigantic tree ferns, some of which are 30 feet or more in height. The native forest contains many rare and endangered species which Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary is committed to protecting.
Unfortunately, touring the Sanctuary requires advance reservations. I hadn’t planned ahead, so we weren’t able to get in. The Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary is now at the top of my list of must-see places the next time we’re on Hawaii. If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island, be sure to visit and let me know how it was!
We spent an hour driving around Kaloko Mauka, which is home to large country estates that are barely visible behind the dense vegetation. I caught glimpses of beautifully landscaped homes I would have loved to visit. How wonderful it would be to go on a garden tour in this area!
The most spectacular sight, however, was a small clump of variegated bananas growing right by the road. I spent 20 minutes photographing them from all angles. In my book, this is one of the most spectacular foliage plants in existence.
In the old days, the variegated banana (Musa × paradisiaca ‘Ae Ae’) was so rare and special that ownership was restricted to Hawaiian royalty. Today it’s the holy grail for many banana collectors—not only because of its exquisite beauty, but also because it’s so difficult to find and expensive to buy.
And then there’s the matter of keeping it alive and thriving: It’s not hardy, and it requires high humidity, constant moisture and a position that gives it as much bright light as possible while shading it from the hot afternoon sun that would otherwise burn the white areas of the leaves.
The plants I saw in Kaloko Mauka definitely had all they needed because they looked gorgeous. Protected from the wind by trees and Hawaiian tree ferns (Cibotium sp.), the leaves were in very good shape—quite different from the tattered and torn ‘Ae Ae’ I’d seen at the Maui Nui Botanical Garden in Kahului, Maui last year.
A desert guy at heart, I’m happiest surrounded by succulents and other xeric plants. At least most of the time. But when I see a lush landscape like the one in the photos above, I begin to falter, wishing I could have that in my garden too. Life would be so much easier if I could settle on only one thing without wanting what I can’t have in our water-starved, low-humidity, sun-drenched Mediterranean climate.