Hinahina kū kahakai in Hawaiian Culture: Hawaiians referred to a number of native plants covered with silvery hairs as hinahina including the Hawaiian wormwood (Artemisia), silversword (Argyroxiphium), Hawaiian Geranium and others. Hinahina kū kahakai is further identified as the silvery plant that grows near the ocean (kahakai). Hawaiians used and continue to use hinahina stem-tips with their densely clustered and whorled leaves (with or without the stalks of small fragrant flowers) in lei. In the past, the leaves were used to make a medicinal tea. Hinahina kū kahakai is the island flower of Kaho‘olawe.
Collecting Seeds: Hinahina kū kahakai flower and fruit sporadically throughout the year. The tiny mature seeds are tan or gray, contained inside the dead dried and gray fruits atop the branched flower/fruit stalks. Try to collect the stalks soon after they turn gray since ocean breezes quickly shake the tiny seeds free of the dried fruits. A hand-lens or magnifying glass is helpful for examining the fruits and determining if they still hold seeds. Place the fruit stalks in a clear plastic bag and shake the bag vigorously; the tiny mature seeds will collect in the bottom of the bag for easy retrieval. I have always used relatively fresh seeds, no more than three months old, when growing hinahina. Therefore, I cannot tell you how long they’ll remain viable stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Growing from Seed: No one grows hinahina from seed – well, almost no one! It’s just so much easier and faster to grow from cuttings. But, for whatever reason, you decide to try, here’s how I do it. I fill one or more 4-inch pots with beach sand and coral rubble. Then, I sprinkle about 20 hinahina seeds on the surface of the sand and GENTLY water them in. I place the pots under 50% shadecloth (but full sun would likely work too) and gently water them every day. After about two weeks you should see the first tiny hinahina seedlings. More seeds will continue to sprout for the next two months. After the first seedlings show, I cut back on the watering and try not to get water directly on the seedlings’ leaves. This helps prevent water-loving fungi from killing the seedlings. After the hinahina have 6-10 leaves, I carefully separate and repot each in its own container. The seedlings grow slowly at first but at the end of six months you should have a nice hinahina six inches or more in diameter. You can speed things up with fertilizer but you will likely get a very unnatural-looking lanky green hinahina that’s more attractive to sap-sucking pests.
Growing from Cuttings: Propagate hinahina from cuttings using either Method One or Method Two. I’ve had better success with younger, still greenish stem-cuttings than older gray-black stem-cuttings. Placing the stems diagonally under the media has also worked better for me than placing them vertically. Be careful not to break the stem when you’re removing the lower (old and new) leaves from the cutting. You should begin to see new roots emerging from numerous nodes in 2-4 weeks. One to two weeks after you first see (or feel) roots, the cutting should have enough root development to remove it from the container (Method One) or mist chamber (Method Two). If you’re using Method Two, take care to adjust the misting frequency so that the cutting’s leaves can dry between mistings; too frequent misting will cause the leaves, and eventually the stem, to rot.
Growth in the Garden: Hinahina planted out in an appropriate environment (i.e., sunny, dry, excellent substrate drainage; see introduction above) grow slowly but steadily, increasing 1-2 feet in diameter per year. Keep a close eye on your newly-planted hinahina until it is well rooted, watering whenever you see serious leaf wilting. After that, cut back on watering to maintain a natural-looking silvery plant. The same is true with fertilizing; too much fertilizer will result in a non-silvery, gangly plant. Hinahina grown from cuttings can start producing flowers soon after establishing themselves in a container or the ground. For hinahina grown from seed, you’ll likely be waiting six months to a year before the first flowers. Hinahina kū kahakai are long-lived plants (if you keep them happy); I know of wild plants that are at least twenty years old.
Diseases & Pests: Occasionally, I’ve seen sucking insects such as mealybugs, scale insects or aphids on hinahina. However, these sickly plants are nearly always living in an unfavorable environment (e.g., too shady, too frequent watering, too much fertilizer). Combat these sucking insects with several sprayings of horticultural oil and a systemic insecticide, and, if possible, try to improve the hinahina’s environment (e.g., move it to a sunnier location).
Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū