In honor this month’s Merry Monarch hula festival and the ladies of Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima……
Distribution: ’Ilima is a common shrub or ground cover found on the coast and on up into the dry and mesic forest of all the Hawaiian Islands. ‘Ilima is classified as an indigenous plant so that means it is native to Hawai’i as well as other parts of the world, however, there are forms found throughout the islands that are unique to certain localities.
Description: There are many different varieties of ‘ilima in Hawai’i. On the coast, ‘Ilima papa (flat ‘ilima) grows prostrate, perhaps up to a foot tall, while others in dry and mesic forests grow into bushes up to four feet or so. All have semi-rounded green leaves with serrated margins but the mountain varieties tend to have more of a pointed apex on the leaf tip. Some coastal varieties have leaves that are covered with extremely soft, velvet-like hairs, which are actually an evolutionary adaptation to reflect sunlight and prevent the plant from drying out, but are really nice to touch. Their flowers for which they are most known for are about an inch in diameter and a rich orange hue, they are also very soft but at the same time very fragile.
Landscape use: This plant makes an attractive low hedge or can be left alone as a specimen plant. Plant it in full sun to achieve maximum number of flowers and water less after plant shows signs of new growth. This will help the plant stay more bushier and not so leggy. Less watering will also increase the velvety look of the leaves and help keep the bugs away. ‘Ilima generally likes dry and hot conditions. Few pests are know to attack ‘Ilima, occasionally white fly may be found on the undersides of the leaves or aphids on the new leaves, a quick wash with a mild soap solution should help or following the label on a store bought pesticide for white fly and aphids will also work.
Cultural Uses: The flowers of ‘Ilima can be strung into lei and they are also used as a mild laxative for babies.
Additional Info: Today, ‘Ilima is known as the island flower of Oahu and is still strung into lei, but what people don’t realize is that you can add the flowers to your salads, they add great color taste pretty good too. Make sure you pop out the flower from the calyx which is the little green cup at the base of the petals, just roll the calyx in between your fingers and the flower should pop right out. Don’t eat the flowers if you sprayed the plant with pesticides. If you did, read the label of the pesticide to see if you can eat from the plant after spraying and how long you should wait before you do.