Hawaii Expedition Log

  1. by Tony Avent
  2. Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
  3. www.plantdelights.com
  4. 9241 Sauls Road
  5. Raleigh, NC 27603
  6. 919.772.4794
Shop for Perennials at Plant Delights Nursery

December 30, 2002 - January 10, 2003


  1. Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, NC
  2. Michelle Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, NC

Background and Purpose:

To search for a complete collection of taro varieties as well as high elevation ferns.

Monday, December 30, 2002

On our 25th wedding anniversary, my wife Michelle and I departed Raleigh-Durham on an all-night flight to the island of Maui, Hawaii with connections in Dallas, Texas and Los Angeles, California. Within minutes of our Dallas touchdown, we were stopped by a bad storm that had settled over the Dallas airport. Only after 45 minutes of circling, were we finally able to touch down. Upon running to our connecting gate, we found our connection to Los Angeles cancelled, but after a couple of lengthy phone calls to American Airlines, we were re-booked on a flight to Maui via San Jose, California. After a quick dinner, we boarded our new flight, only to have a 1.5 hour-long wait on the runway, waiting for the weather to clear. Once in the air, it was certain that we would now miss even our formerly lengthy connection to Maui. Fortunately, we were able to convince the flight attendants that there were quite a few folks on the flight to Maui, and they agreed to call ahead to have the flight held until we arrived.

Upon arrival in San Jose, we ran to the gate to find the flight only just beginning to board. After a rather bumpy flight we landed in Maui at 10:45pm local time...3:45am EST. To add to an already fun evening, we discovered that our luggage had opted for the flight to Los Angeles. This was despite repeated promises that our luggage would follow us to San Jose. After waiting in line for more than an hour with others whose luggage had deserted them as well, we boarded a shuttle to take us to our hotel on the far west end of Maui. Within 5 minutes of leaving the airport, we knew that the mainland had indeed invaded Hawaii. We were barely out of the airport when we passed by McDonalds, Burger King, Wal-Mart, Lowes, and Home Depot. There is something about a Wal-Mart silhouette against the towering Haleakala volcano that just didn't look right. By the time we arrived at the hotel, we were more than exhausted and barely managed to make it to our room to collapse.

Tuesday December 31, 2002

After awaking and partaking of breakfast, the shock of prices in Maui made us question if we were really awake. Our hotel offered a buffet breakfast for $34 each! Visions of the McDonalds from the night before quickly re-appeared in our heads. Next, it was down to the beach to see what the left coast of Hawaii looked like. Unlike East Coast beaches, the shore was sandy, but also very rocky. Where much of the east coast has a gently sloping shoreline, the beaches along Northwest Maui are on a 30% slope.

In order to pick up our rental car at the airport, we embarked on another shuttle ride for the 1-hour trek back to the airport. While there, we went to the Hawaiian Air counter to purchase an inter- island pass. These passes are...or I should say were available for ~$300, and allow you to unlimited inter-island flights during a particular period of time. We were informed that due to increased fuel prices, the airlines had just reduced their daily flights from 25 to 8 and everything was booked for the next two weeks. The flights weren't dropped for a lack of demand, but for the price of fuel. Obviously the logic used by this airline isn't one of sound business, which would have simply dictated a price increase. With logic like this, no wonder most airlines are in financial trouble. We would later find that the local residents are also having great problems with the decrease in flight frequency.

I should add here a short note about the Hawaiian Islands. The state of Hawaii is composed of a chain of several volcanic islands. Most are below sea level, but those that are visible are Hawaii Island (called Big Island), Maui (the Garden Island), Oahu (where Honolulu and Pearl Harbor are located), Molokai and Lanai (off the coast of Maui), and Kauai (the most remote). Of these, Oahu is the most developed for tourists. This is also the only island with regular bus transportation service. Big Island has the only active volcano (Mauna Loa) and a peak that exceeds 13,000' elevation. Maui is composed of two dormant volcanic peaks connected by a central valley and is known for its gardens and golf courses. Molokai and Lanai are a stone's throw off the Maui coast and are a part of Maui County. These islands are mostly undeveloped compared to the others. Kauai is host to several top botanical gardens and is the most remote of the four main islands. Since we were unable to secure inter-island flights during our stay, our travels would be confined to the island of Maui.

We returned to the airport in the late afternoon to find that our luggage had finally arrived.

Wednesday January 1, 2003

With a five hour delay from Eastern Standard Time, our television show reference points for the day were skewed. We awoke to find our Alma Mater NC State playing in the Gator Bowl. After enjoying a victory over Notre Dame, we were off in our rental car to explore. We found traffic on the island to be rather light. It was only when we returned near the airport to the city of Kahului that we noticed any type of congestion. Despite the island being only 50 miles wide, travel took longer than expected since there were few straight roads. To get anywhere, we must spend time driving along the bottom of the two volcanic peaks.

Our hotel was on the far west end of the island, so anywhere that we went was going to be in an easternly direction. Our first trip was east and then south to the resort area of Wailea. This community is home to the finest of hotels including the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons. Just south of the hotels and surrounding championship golf courses, the road narrowed and we were quickly in the country again. The road was lined with cars as locals enjoyed the holiday by ducking through the brush and into the ocean for some surfing and swimming.

As the road narrowed to one lane, I was struck (not literally) by several large patches of Furcraea foetida. This non-spiny agave relative is an escapee from northern South America. What a specimen these plants made. The 8' tall x 15' wide clumps of glossy green leaves were topped with giant 8" diameter x 40' tall flower spikes. Walking among the clumps felt like a scene from the old "Land of the Giants" television show. Furcraea foetida forms bulbils on the old flower stalks, making it very prolific in areas where it is hardy. At the base of one of the huge clumps, I found a small offspring with wide creamy white margins. Of course, this simply had to return back to NC, so that we can now search for a home where this will be not only prized, but growable.

As the road neared an end, it was time to turn around and head further east and much higher...to Haleakala Crater. Haleakala is the tallest of the two Maui volcanos and comprises what is known as East Maui. As we passed 3,500' elevation, we began seeing a noticeable change in vegetation. Between 3,500' and 4,500' were a number of protea farms. Proteas (South African) and Banksia (Australian) are both prized for the cut flower trade, but virtually impossible to grow outside of their native range. The Hawaiians had found the perfect environment, as each nursery had long rows of proteas that were harvested for cut flowers. The key for these to grow are cool weather, little rainfall, and perfect drainage. As you can imagine, volcanic lava rock does the trick quite well.

As we reached 4,000' elevation, I began to find a number of endemic ferns growing in the rock cracks. The first was Sadleria cyathoides, a Hawaiian tree fern that looked remarkably like Dryopteris wallichiana when young. There were a number of others including Pellaea wrightiana, a fern that I had also collected in Argentina and Texas. All of the ferns were loaded with spores, which make easy harvesting. It soon became clear that the winding switchback 35 mile trek up to the summit was not going to be possible with the remaining daylight, so we turned around and headed back down for the day.

Thursday January 2, 2003

With a full day ahead, we were off to the top of Haleakala again. This time, we had to watch out for the steady parade of bicycle treks down the mountain. It seems that one of the top money making activities is to put tourists in vans and take them to the top of Haleakala where you give them a bicycle and a jacket and let them coast all the way down the mountain. On our trip up, we passed no less than two dozen different groups of cyclists. The most unusual part of the trip is a narrow forested area as you enter the National Park at 7,000' elevation. The area known as Hosmer Grove Forest is composed of several species of pines as well as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis and Cryptomeria japonica. One can only imagine how these trees made it to this elevation on the volcano.

Finally at 11am, we topped the summit after 35 miles of winding switchbacks. We had been warned that the weather at 10,023 feet elevation would be cool, but we were pleasantly surprised to find the temperatures in the 60s and with a stiff breeze. Having not ever been to the top of a volcano at this elevation, the site looked like I would imagine a moonscape. The crushed lava formed a reddish brown mat for the remaining cinder cones. At this elevation, rainfall amounts to 30" per year, while 10 miles to the east the totals are 300" per year. After snapping several photos of the rare endemic composite Silver Sword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense), we were ready to tackle the drive back down the mountain.

Several more stops on the way down yielded a number of other ferns including quite a few of genera of ferns that were new to me. I was thrilled to find nice patches of the stunning fern, Dicranopteris linearis...a fern that I collected in China, but it didn't survive the trip home. Also along the way were some amazing vaccinium, fantastic black fruited coprosma, and a superb Powis Castle looking artemisia, A. mauiensis. The cyclists were long gone by now and all that remained were the hang gliders taking off from the side of the mountain. It must be the thin air at this altitude that makes such activities look safe and fun.

From here, we stopped by the nearby Kula Botanical Gardens, at the base of Haleakala. This garden was started by a gentleman from California who moved to Maui after becoming enchanted with the area. To make a living, he charges a small admission fee to the gardens and grows 20 acres of Ponderosa Pine for Christmas trees behind the property. The garden is small but amazing with nice labeled specimens of most plants, including a stunning collections of proteas and related plants.

As the sun set, we stopped for the early evening in the town of Lahaina. Lahaina is a former whaling village about 45 minutes southwest of the airport. It has developed into a major tourist area with boutique-style shops that stretch for miles. In short, I found this area to be a Charleston, SC on steroids. There was truly not much that you couldn't buy here, including an immaculate DeLorean for sale in front of one of the shops.

The biggest surprise in the Front Street shopping district of Lahaina was the amount of art available. I lost count of the art stores after 50. We're not talking cheap and tacky art either. From modern artists, both local and around the world to Picasso, everything was for sale. We soon learned that Maui has the third largest art market in the world after New York and Paris. As with the art, the jewelry selection was amazing and the vendors were willing to make some fantastic deals...probably because tourism had been off recently.

Saturday January 4, 2003

After taking a day off from exploring on Friday, we embarked to visit the eastern side of the island and the old Hawaiian village of Hana. While we were expecting a winding road, nothing could have prepared us for the "Road to Hana". We would later see the road as "617 hairpin curves, 56 one lane bridges and seemingly endless waterfalls and tropical jungles." Now we understood the shirts for sale around town that said "I Survived the Road to Hana."

The first part of the seemingly short 50 mile trek from the airport to Hana took us by some of the great surfing beaches of Makilo Bay. Unfortunately, this was our first truly windy day (20-35mph winds) and all the surfers were gloomily sitting on the beach. I might mention that Hawaii is know for its wind, but this would indeed be our only windy day of our trip. Once we entered the Waipo Bay region, on the Eastern side, we could no long feel any wind. It was also at this point that we began to climb higher and the vegetation changed rapidly from a very dry climate to a tropical forest.

Where earlier in the trip we had seen the fern Dicranopteris linearis, we now saw its moisture-loving counterpart Dicranopteris emarginata. We begin seeing ground orchids everywhere along the grassy roadside banks. What looked like a giant bletilla was actually Spathoglottis plicata, a naturalized species.

The drive sans curves was an amazing area. Huge stands of Eucalyptus degalypta displayed their bark that even exceeds Lagerstroemia fauriei in beauty. Our first stop was a small drive-thru botanical garden. The owners, who appeared to be old hippies living off the land had found a way to have tourists pay to drive around through groves of bananas and dracaena and buy animal food to feed their chickens, ducks, etc. It's good to see capitalism alive in Hawaii.

Only a few miles down the road, we rounded one of many curves to stare at the vista used for the opening scene of the movie Jurassic Park. Although difficult to photograph without a pull-off in the road, the opportunity to see this amazing setting will be long remembered.

Finally, just after 1pm, with empty stomachs and a similarly filled gas tank, we arrived in the town of Hana. This cute "authentic" Hawaiian village is based around the Hana Maui Inn and Art Gallery. This delightful place serves as a respite for Hollywood types that fly into the small Hana airport from the main airport in Maui. Several Hollywood actors have build homes in the region. After a delightful lunch and short visit to the art gallery, we were ready to return to the west side of the island.

On the way back to the west side of the island, we stopped by Keanae Arboretum. The arboretum must have been quite a site in its heyday, but it has fallen into disrepair. There are still some amazing large specimens but the labeling is poor at best and the level of maintenance is quite sad. It was noted for having large collections of taro, but all that I could locate was a small patch of Colocasia esculenta and acres of Xanthosoma sagittifolia.

Monday January 6, 2003

After a day of rest to recover from the Hana experience, we were off again to discover more plants. One the road to Haleakala, we stopped again at the town of Kula to visit the Enchanted Floral Gardens of Maui. This is another private botanical garden, a good bit larger that the Kula Botanic Garden. It, too, was quite amazing, representing over 2,000 species and most of them labeled. Both private gardens were maintained far better than the one public garden that I visited.

From here, I got directions to the nearby University of Hawaii Experiment Station. After getting different directions from three different people (including the postman), we were completely lost. Only after calling the station did I get accurate directions and find the well- hidden facility. After filling out their required paperwork for a visit, I was asked what type of plants I was interested in. When I replied colocasia, you would have thought the secretary had one of those Calavaras County Jumping Frogs up her skirt. In a shriek of excitement, she yelled, "Dr. Cho, I must call Dr. Cho! He won't believe that someone is interested in colocasia breeding." Within seconds a gentleman appeared and introduced himself as Dr. Cho.

The more we talked, the more excited we both got...at least I assume he was excited. Dr. Cho is a plant pathology professor nearing retirement from the University of Hawaii. He had recently begun work on breeding of colocasia for leaf spot resistance, with an obvious interest in edible taro. After wandering around his reference collection that included all of the known cultivars of Hawaiian taro, I was nearly speechless. After searching for years, I had managed to stumble on a complete collection. This was only the tip of the iceberg, as I soon discovered that Dr. Cho was even breeding taro and had made selections from his field trials. As I tried to explain how incredible I found his work, he still looked puzzled and explained that virtually no one on Hawaii was interested in ornamental taro. After several hours of fast-paced touring through his work, we parted ways with a commitment to work together on bringing these to the attention of the public.

Although anything from here on would be anti-climactic, we traveled from here to the Tropical Gardens of Maui. This delightful garden features tram tours through each of the important Hawaiian crops. The large gift shop was also surrounded by a well maintained Hawaiian style landscape. While I didn't find any unusual plants, this was a fabulously well maintained facility.

Wednesday January 8, 2003

Before leaving, we stopped by the PGA Mercedes Open that was being played at the Plantation Golf Course right outside our hotel. On Wednesday, the Pro-Am was held before the opening round on Thursday. It was great to see some of the top professional golfers as well as the likes of celebrities such as Dennis Hopper and Clint Eastwood. Since cameras are not allowed on the course during regular play, the Pro-Am did provide a great opportunity to snap a few pictures.

Thursday January 9, 2003

After stopping by the Plantation Golf Course to watch a bit of the first round of the tournament, we were off to catch the plane for the return flight home. It was indeed an amazing trip, but quite different from my expectations. I didn't realize that most of Maui was inaccessible by car and that half of the island was a virtual desert. All the photos that you see of Maui with palm trees, ginger lilies, dracaenas, and other tropicals are all imports from other lands, many of which have escaped into the wild and are threatening the Hawaiian native plants.


While some vacationers return with tales of rain and wind for more than a week at a time, we were obviously quite lucky. The wind was strong for only one day and we saw no sign of rain. If we had, it most certainly would not be the cool rain of which we are accustomed to in the east. The winter weather was truly amazing. Highs range from upper 70s to lower 80s and evening temperatures in the 60s. As the elevation increased, the night temperatures could easily drop lower. In the protea growing area at 3,500' elevation, lows in the low 40s would not be uncommon with an occasional frost. At the top of Haleakala, freezes are more regular. The winter of 2001 brought snow to the mountain top, and according to the National Park employees, the event caused a huge day-long traffic jam with locals going to see the snow.

As for the people on Maui, one thing is for sure: they have a disdain for clothes...particularly undergarments. I've heard the old adage, if you've got it, flaunt it, but in Maui it was more like, if you think you might ever get it, go ahead and flaunt it. On the mainland, we have all been accustomed to eating establishments and stores with signs like, "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service." Not on Maui, where "Less is Better" rules. New non-smoking ordinances for restaurants had just gone into effect, so if you need tobacco, this might be a good time to stop. The people on Maui were wonderful and extremely friendly. In addition to island natives, the population of Maui is composed of young adults who want to stretch their wings for a few years before settling down as well as a large chunk of retired Californians. From store clerks to other visitors, Maui seemingly transformed everyone into an overly friendly group. The experience was best summed up by a locally printed t-shirt, "Slow down, this isn't the Mainland"

I highly recommend Maui as both a vacation spot and a place to do some unique botanizing.