Can Hawaiian Native Plants and Agriculture Co-exist?

Last November I questioned the idea: In Hawaii where Native plants are endangered, can I help the three varieties of native plants that exist on the farm property to thrive, while also benefitting squash production. The answer:Yes.

Ilima buds

As we know, squash need a lot of everything: sun, water, compost, bees, the works. So instead of using non-native plantings to attract more bees, what if I studied the nature of the abundantly flowered native Ilima shrub and tried to work out a system where each would benefit. The result : The Ilima Project.

Ilima is special, it is hardy and is most grateful for any bit of water or compost that it is offered.

I read in the excellent Bishop Museum Book, “Native Planters,” that the Ilima plant was often pruned heavily so to create even more buttercup like blooms. Bingo. Give it what it needs and create a bee frenzy. The fast growing shrub was more than slightly tolerant of my experimental no-till techniques, and the bees plunged into bloom after bloom and pollinated the squash as well. The smaller blooms attracted many new bees and beneficial wasps that were “new” to the farm. The Ilima thrived.

No-till using Ilima as a companion

success!  Growing squash with the Native Hawaiian Ilima plant
success! Growing squash with the Native Hawaiian Ilima plant

As for the squash, they were happy too as they climbed up and around the shrubs and tottered over the no-till cardboard mulch. I grew out one of the world’s rarest squash for seed preservation (the bright orange bombshell in the photo)along with trusty Hawaiian heirloom squash for the community, a Long of Naples, and also many Thai squash.

I am just adding compost to the beds so to have a late summer crop. The Ilima shrubs (seen in the rear of the wheelbarrow photo) are continuing to thrive.

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