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Edible/Useful Perennials

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A tropical landscape isn't complete with just tall edibles like fruit trees, coconuts, and bananas. There are so many other niches to fill and needs to provide.

One niche is from 1 inch to 6 feet above the ground. This niche is very diverse and exciting. There are edible vegetables, pretty leaves, and fragrant flowers. There are also ground covers, medicinals, fruiting shrubs and vines, and multi-purpose plants.

And above 6 feet, there are mulch trees, living fences, and timbers (including bamboo — but these are listed separately since we carry so many of them).

All these plants round out a homestead and provide food for our eyes, noses, and mouth; building material for homes, furniture, tools, and utensils; fertilizer for our other plants; fodder for animals; and fiber for textiles.

At GaiaYoga Nursery we've just begun to tap the incredible resouce of useful tropical perennials. We currently propagate plants that have proven themselves in Hawaii as easy to grow and enjoyed by many people. We've divided these plants into five sections: Fruiting Perennials, Lilikoi, Perennial Vegetables, Utility Plants, and Ornamental Shrubs.

If there's a plant that you don't see that you're interested in, or one that you think would be valuable for us to propagate, please let us know.

Fruiting Perennials

Papaya (Watermelon & Sunrise): One of the staples of a tropical diet (along with avocado, banana, and coconut). Papayas are probably the most rewarding plant of all to grow. They bear fruit approximately 1 year from planting, produce continually all-year-round, are delicious, nutritious, and juicy, provide a classic tropical-ambience, and take up very little space for how much they produce. We offer seedlings from open-pollinated, organic papaya. (We can't guarantee our seeds are free from GMOs, since cross-pollination with GMOs can occur even amongst organically-grown papayas. But we can guarantee we planted seeds from delicious, organic fruit that were grown without direct exposure to GMO commercial fields.)

Poha Berry: Poha berries are like a cross between a tomatillo and a cherry tomato. They're a meandering, vine-like, bush with similar growing habits to a tomato plant. The fruits are yellow when ripe, between the size of a small and large marble, and are covered with a paper-like mesh that looks like a lantern. They produce throughout the year and are fun for snacks, salads, pupus, or whatever.

Sugar Cane: One of Hawaii's favorite backyard crops, with beautiful colors and an abundance of ready-to-eat, nutritious food. Sugar cane can be eaten raw, using a machete to strip off the hard outer layer. (Just chew the center of the cane and spit out the pulp — kids love this!) It can also be pressed and turned into juice, or processed and refined in many other ways. We currently offer a mottled-red variety, that's big, beautiful, and tasty.

Tomarillo (Tree Tomato): Many people have never heard of Tree Tomato, let alone eaten one, but most people who try them become a fan of these fast-growing, large-leaved, highly-productive, semi-woody perennials. The plants start producing in a year or less and get up to 10-12 feet tall, forming a canopy of beautiful leaves and dangling egg-shaped fruits that turn burgundy-red when ripe. They taste like a cross between a large tomato and a lilikoi — tangy, sweet, seedy, juicy, and acidic. If you've never had one, they're worth a try.

White Pineapple: Like yellow pineapple? You'll love white pineapple! Known as Sugar Loaf, white pineapples are low-acid, mild, and so sweet you can eat the core. After two years in the ground, plants start to produce 4-8 pound fruits that come ripe in July and August. Each plant takes up about a square foot of ground, so figure out how many you want to eat (and share), pick out a spot, and get some white pineapples planted. Yummm!

Lilikoi (Passion Fruit)

What could be easier? Send a vine up a tree or along a fence, wait a year or two, and then start looking on the ground for colorful balls of juicy, fruity delight. Not only that, you also get some of the best-smelling and most-beautiful flowers you can possibly imagine. What could be better? How about 5 different varieties to choose from:-)

Giant Quadulangulis: Of all the things we show people while walking around our land, nothing amazes them more than seeing a lilikoi the size of a coconut, hanging from a bright green vine that's climbing over our christmas berry tree. It's better than a scene from Ripley's Believe it or Not!, because the giant quadulangulis is, to our tastes, the most delicious of all the lilikoi. The fruit is similiar in structure and color to a honeydew melon, with a large cavity of seeds surrounded by a thick layer of flesh going out to the skin. The tasty seeds, similar to crunchy pumpkin seeds, are covered in an incredibly sweet and juicy pulp that you spoon out to eat. Sometimes the flesh is mildly sweet and refreshing to eat, other times it's hard and inedible. But the seed cavity alone is consistently a pleasure to consume.

Note: Unlike all the other lilikoi, you must pick the giant lilikoi from the vine (otherwise they rot). So you want to keep the vine within a height you can reach from a ladder.

Jamaican Orange: Most people we talk to say that this is their favorite lilikoi for eating. It has a soft, fuzzy, suede-like, orange skin. They're shaped more-or-less like a very large chicken egg. They're very sweet inside, easy to open, and of course have stunning and fragrant flowers. Unlike the common lilikoi, these have no tangy/tartness to them.

Purple (common):
These lilikoi are very similiar in size, taste, and growth habit to the Yellow (common) lilikoi. They're usually a bit sweeter and less tangy. They're actually more of a burgundy-red than purple, but everyone calls them purple. Occasionally an individual plant will revert back to being yellow. These are a very vigorous-growing plant.

"Golf Ball" aka Sweet Grenadilia:
These lilikoi, like the name implies, are wonderfully sweet. They have very little tartness to them when they're ripe. They're only the size of a golf ball, but they're the toughest to open of all the lilikoi we propagate. The shell is about 1/4" thick and very hard. Most people open them with a small knife that's pushed through the top of the fruit and then twisted, so the lilikoi splits in half. Like all the small-fruiting lilikoi, they drop an abundance fruit when in season and have delightful flowers.

Yellow (common):
This is by far the most widely available lilikoi in Hawaii. It produces bucket-after-bucket-load of yellow tangy/sweet fruits that are shaped like chicken eggs, but about twice to three times the size. The yellow lilikoi is the main indgredient in commercial passion fruit juice. Like the purple, it's a very vigorous plant.

"Sumatra": This is a new introduction from Sumatra. A few years ago we got seeds for a lilikoi that wasn't in Hawaii from a friend. It turns out it's a purple lilikoi that makes a fruit a bit smaller than the standard purple. The shells about as hard, but the taste is sweet, without any tartness. The leaf is a bit different than the local purple lilikoi as well.

"Deep Purple": One day Ano was walking around the Maku'u farmer's market outside Pahoa and saw some lilikoi for sale that he'd never seen before. Curioulsy, he bought them, and they were delicious! (Similiar to the Jamaican Orange, but with a rounder semi-hard purple shell.) The next week he asked the person who sold them the fruit what he new about it, and he didn't know much of anything, and he didn't have any more. Those seeds were started and have been named "Deep Purple." They're really tasty.

Perennial Vegetables

There are two groups of perennial vegetables here. The first are long lived plants (a decade or longer) that do not require to be replanted or much care once established. They make nice landscape plants and are a dependable, low-input source of healthy, edible-raw greens. This group includes bele, garlic chives, katuk, Okanowan spinich, perennial celery, and sweet-and-sour hibiscus.

The other group are edible raw root vegetables. These plants take 6 - 9 months to mature and well adapted to tropical environments. If you don't harvest the roots the plants will live for many years, but they are easily harvested and started again. This group includes jacon, jicima, and Jerusalem artichoke.

We promote these plants because they require minimal maintenance, are much more drought tolerant than typical annual vegetables, are well-adapted to our tropical climate, and are nourishing and tasty.

Bele (Edible Hibiscus): Want to have enough dark leafy greens to eat even if you can't get to the store for weeks? Well then bele is you plant. It is an extremely vigorous growing brambling bush that gets up to 8 feet tall and as wide as it can. It makes giant leaves that are roughly a foot wide all year round. It forms a soft woody trunk much like a papaya, and it branches extensively.

Some people really like bele, some people find it uninteresting. At times the leaves have a slimeyness to them, other times not (still haven't figured out why this changes). It's a fantastic survival plant, and it lives indefinitely. In the South Pacific, where the word bele comes from, it is planted and used extensively, with the leaves harvest young, small, and tender. You'll never have to worry about lacking salad greens again. They can also be steamed or used as wraps.

We have two varieties of bele, one has a purple stem, has a more fingered leaf, makes no flower, and is the most vigorous grower, the other has a green stem, has a more rounded leaf, occasionally makes a simple yellow flower about 4"-6" in diameter, and is much less vigorous. One to three plants per person is plenty to provide all the bele you'll probably want.

Chives, Garlic: A wonderful addition to any garden. Garlic chives make a bounty of foot tall grass-like green blades that have a delicious garlic-like taste. They also make purple edible flowers. They make a nice edging plant, and go well in a salad or just by themselves.

Jakon (aka Jacon or Yacon): Currently unavialable.

Jerusalem Artichoke: Currently unavialable

Jicama: Currently unavialable

Katuk: Of all the perennial vegetables, this is our favorite. It makes a nutty, spinachy tasting leaf, that you can graze or put in a salad. It also periodically makes a crunchy, creamy-white"fruit" which contains it's seeds. These are about the size of a small marble and are quite tasty too.

Katuk is a woody upright bush, that gets upto 9 feet tall and a couple feet wide. Only the young leaves are eaten, so they are constantly being pruned for harvesting and to encourage new leaves to grow. Because of this each individual plant makes only a handful of edible leaves at any one time. So to have enough katuk to eat you need between 20 and 50 plants per person. We reccomend make beds or hedges of katuks and planting the mother plants on 2 ft. - 3 ft. centers and then allow them to self seed and fill in. After a couple years you'll have a massive thicket of katuk, which you can harvest perpetually.

Okinawan Spinach: Is it an ornamental ground cover or is it a vegetable? It's both! Okanowan spinach is a succulent vine that gets about a foot tall and sprawls around forming a thick matt of stems and leaves. They are tangy to the taste, and beautiful to the eye.

We have two varieties of Okinawan spinach, one has a leaf that is dark green on the top and purple on the bottom. The other has a bit milder taste and has a lighter brighter green leaf both top and bottom. The purple/green leaf one is most widely planted and makes a beautiful accent understory plant that you can also eat. Plants tend to get about 5 feet in diameter, but can spread larger if there's space or smaller if there isn't. Up to six plants per person should be enough to provide ample vegetables.

Perennial Celery: This is a 1 ft. to 2 ft. tall clumping ground cover that can get up to a foot or two, or even more in diameter. It has the basic flavor of celery, but it doesn't have thick stalks. It can be eaten fresh from the garden, or mixed in a salad as an accent. While probably not destined to be your favorite vegetable, it's so easy to grow and maintain all year round, that it is desirable to have a small patch of it for a garden.

Sweet-&-Sour Hibiscus: This is upright woody shrub has beautiful burgandy colored leaves that are oak shaped. It can get a bit taller than a person, like katuk, before it flops over on it's own weight. The leaves, like the name implies, has a tangy sweet-&-sourness to them. This isn't the kind of plant people tend to eat tons of at one sitting, as the taste gets overpowering, but a few leaves here or there for spice or added to a salad as an a color and flavor accent is quite pleasing.

The plants go dormant in the winter, dropping most or all of their leaves and die back several feet. But don't worry they'll re-emerge in the spring. A few plants per person is plenty to provide food, though many people like to have more for their ornamental value.

Utility Plants

Aloe Vera: A must for enery homestead, aloe vera is one of the most widely used medicinal plants in the world. Our variety makes giant leaves that are 3" wide at the base and can get up to 18" long. Aloe is used on burns (sunburns), rashes, scrapes, and bruises to promote healing and soothe pain, and some people even eat it for healing and health maintenance. A wonderful plant that can be kept in a pot on your lanai, inside a window, or out in the landscape.

There's a saying started by one of the owners of this nursery, "If you don't choose your ground covers, your ground covers will choose you!" Many folks have discovered this the hard way, and are now in a constant maintenance struggle in their orchards, chained to weed eaters and lawnmowers or herbacides to keep their trees and land accessible. Is there another practical solution besides "letting the weeds take over?" Yes there is, and honahona is one of the best answers to this riddle of "What ground cover do I choose?".

Honahona, also known as Wandering Jew, is a unique groundcover in that it spreads aggresively like a vine, yet it doesn't wrap or twine; it can outgrow and smother most every grass and vine (with minimal human assistance), yet it cuts as easy as warm butter with a machete or sickle; it grows up to two feet tall in thick mats that prevent other plants from establishing in them, yet just a few trods over them forms an easy to walk trail that lasts as long as you use it regularly. It offers an amazing balance of vigor, walk-through-ability, gentleness, and low-maintenace.

Honahona is very light-weight, soft, and puffy, and this is why it can outcompete most other ground covers, it shades them out, because while other plants are making heavier, tougher leaves and stems, honahona is producing way more leaves and spreading out and over these slower growing, surdier plants.

We don't reccomend honahona as a lawn, as it gets too tall, but in an orchard or bamboo or timber stand, where the main needs are to be able to walk through with ease and minimize maintenace, it's just what the land-steward ordered.

Honahona grows quite easily for bareroot cuttings, so that's the way we supply it. Just take the cuttings and bury them all over the place in your orchard and watch them go.

Melocia "toilet paper tree": There's a handfull of derogatory phrases used on the island to describe a whole class of trees. The phrases include "weed tree," "junk tree," and "trash tree." These are tragic labels for trees that infact have significant value for people, besides there inherent value as trees. These terms are used to describe the following trees: albizzia, secropia, melocia, and Chinese elm or "gunpowder tree." What these trees have in common is that they are very fast growing, soft-wooded, can handle low fertility situations, can out compete the weeds in an abandoned commercial papaya field or bulldozed lot, and generate a lot of biomass.

All of these trees are magnificent sources of mulch, fertilizer, and nutrient-rich material for compost piles. Trees like these are the heart of most of the well-designed, sustainable, tropical agriculture systems. Permaculturists and forest farmers call them "mulch trees," "bio-mass trees," or "nurse trees." They cycle nutrients from deep in the soil, are drought tolerant, and provide perpetual, easy-to-harvest arm loads of fertilizer to "hack-whack-and-stack" at the base of your fruit trees, bamboo, bananas, etc.

At our homestead, where our nursery is located, we have these trees everywhere, interspersed thoughout the landscape, building soil and feeding our food and timber crops. Amongst these trees melocia is our favorite for several reasons.

Melocia makes a first class toilet paper. A stack of hand-sized or bigger leaves can be picked and then set in a basket at your flush or composting toilet. The leaves will last a week or more in the shade and provide a smooth and thorough wiping on par with the best commercial toilet papers. But melocia doesn't have the same environmental or economic price tag as store bought rolls of toilet paper. Instead of cutting down trees on another continent and transporting them to Hawaii to clean our butts we can pick the ever-regenerating leaves of a tree on our own land and experience that connection to our land everytime we use the toilet. Wow! Now that ain't no weed tree.

But there's more... Melocia bark is an amazing weaving material, that comes off in thick, wide, long strips, and can be used to make hats, mats, baskets, lashing for poles, you name it. Beyond this the wood is generally straight, light-yet-strong, and is not eaten by insects (that we've seen over two years of testing). This means it makes a wonderful, local, easy-to-use, building material for posts, beams, or whatever. It should last indefinitely if kept dry. Out in the weather, like any wood, it will breakdown much quicker.

So there it is, an amazing utility plant - mulch, toilet paper, weaving material, and lumber all in one easy-to-grow and easy-to-manage plant.

Mexican Sunflower: This meandering semi-woody shrub can get upwards of 10-to-15 feet tall with large fuzzy leaves. It makes a dense screening and an incredible amount of bio-mass that is very easy to cut and use for mulching of other plants. It grows vigorously and several times a year blooms out with hundreds of 3-to-5 inch diameter beautiful and fragrent yellow flowers. Though not a true sunflower it's appearence is very reminiscent of the food-producing annuals. Bees love them, and the flowers are wonderful gift to pick on the way to your home and give to a loved one or to use in a flower arrangement. Mulch, privacy screening, fragrence, flowers, and pollen - Mexican Sunflower.

Perennial Peanut: Like having a lawn? Tired of having to mow it? Get off the endless maintenance cycle of mowing your lawn and plant perennial peanut, a no-mow alternative to the time-and-energy-and-money-consuming grass lawn. Perennial Peanut is not a grass, it's a leguminous, spreading ground cover that makes a thick carpet about ankle-high that functions just like a grass lawn.

Once established it requires just a little bit of periodic hand-weeding to keep out establishing grasses and other weeds. It's fairly drought-tolerant, but like any lawn will wilt and yellow with a long drought, but rebound as soon as rains return. Unlike a grass lawn though, perennial peanut is regularily adorned with hundreds and hundreds of little yellow flowers that stick up an inch or two above the leaves. The yellow flowers on the carpet of green creates a very wonderful fairy-like ambience that warms the heart of most every passer-by.

Lawn mowing is one of the biggest forms of noise and air pollution that occurs in our neighborhoods. Perennial peanut not only frees up your time to do other things besides mow your lawn, when planted at your neighbors it makes it more enjoyable on your lawn, because your not hearing or smelling your neighbors mowing theirs!

Perennial peanut is a relatively non-invasive plant, as it doesn't spread seeds, and it is not aggresive enough to take over already established native plantings. It can handle regular and rough use like most grasses, but it will not survive the constant trodding of a main trail between two points that are walked several times a day - like from a front door to a carport. For main trails you will need to let it be dirt, cinders, or put stepping stones, or gravel, or something similiar.

We sell perennial peanut in 3 inch pots. After a lot of trial-and-error, we've found this the most effective technique for establishing a lawn. The pots are planted in a prepared area (we'll explain how to prepare an area when you buy it) about 18 inches apart. They can be planted more densely and the lawn will fill in faster. At a 18 inch spacing it takes about 6 months for the lawn to fill in and cover the ground thoroughly. Over the course of the next year or so the carpet gets thicker and softer.

Perennial peanut costs a bit more in terms of time and money to get established than a need-to-be-mowed grass lawn, but it more than pays for itself over time because of all the savings in lawn mowers, fuel, and time mowing. So ultimately it's much more economical than grass.

So go ahead, start a quiet revolution in your neighborhood with perennial peanut!

Rainbow Eucalyptus: Probably the most desirable of the eucalpyptus available in Hawaii. These trees are highlighted by an ever-changing display of rainbow colored bark that peels and reveals new hues and patterns over time. They can be grown simply as an ornamental - though be aware that they can get over 100 feet tall! Or they can be planted in a small grove or timber lot as a lumber tree. They can be harvested in as little as 10 years, though we recommend waiting longer. They're wood is bug resistant, beautiful, and highly useful for floors, boards, furniture, shelving, whatever. Once planted they grow tremendously fast and create a low maintenence situation beneath them. Get the best of both worlds, a long-term cash crop that's simply gorgeous to see.

Wiliwili: [We currently don't sell wiliwili due to the gall wasp that is desimating it. If this wasp becomes in balance and wiliwili is able to thrive again we'll renew selling it.]

One day a book will be written called "101 Uses For Wiliwili." It will probably have 101 different people contributing their favorite uses of this most amazing utility tree.

Wiliwili is an extremely upright growing nitrogen-fixing tree that is easily planted from leafless-and-rootless cuttings. Cuttings can be as small as one inch in diameter and one foot tall or as big as one foot in diameter and thirty feet tall or anywhere in between. Depending on what you're wanting to make out of wiliwili will determine what size cutting you choose.

So what can be made out of wiliwili? Here's an abridged list: living fences; fence posts for mounting metal fence or electic fence on; windbreak; posts for holding ridge poles for tarp structures; pin markers; mulch plants for fertilizing orchards and making compost; fodder for four-legged animals; famine food; bead making; etc.

Unlike most branching trees, wiliwili doesn't branch outward, it branches upward, so it maintains a clean compact shape no matter how old it gets. This makes it ideal for so many situations where a horizontally branching tree would get in the way - growing into paths, growing into structures, shading gardens or trees, etc.

Of course one of the best things about wiliwili is how easy it is to plant. Just cut a pencil point on the lower/fatter end of the cutting, shove it in the ground so it stands up and walk away! Over the next months it will start rooting and leafing out, and in less than a year you will have a fully-rooted fertility-factory. It can even be planted in 3 foot tall California Grass with almost no weeding or clearing and then eventually shade the area out, reducing/eliminating the California Grass.

So if you're designing a sustainable orchard and need mulch plants, or need a fast initial windbreak or hedge while your long-term, slower-growing plants mature, or want to build an eco-dwelling, or want to make a pasture and save money on fence posts, or, or, or then wiliwili is probably the plant for you. For hedges and windbreaks and mulch intercropping we recommend planting them on 2 - 3 foot centers in double rows on staggered spacing.

A final note: Wiliwili has very small thorns growing on it's bark. They're not big enough to cut, nor do they form slivers, but if you are handling them a lot or planting them you'll probably want to wear gloves. Otherwise you'll end up with scratches all over your hands. The scratches aren't deep enough to draw blood generally speaking, but they can be annoying for the next few days while they heal.

So that's the basic low-down on wiliwili. Order yourself a truck-load today, and discover the joys and magic of this powerful and useful tropical tree.

Ornamental Shrubs

Coleus: One of the most popular and easy to grow tropical ornamentals. Coleus are a succulent, large leaved, brambling plants that can get up to 8 feet tall, but generaly stay below 5 feet tall. There are dozens of varieties that come in a whole array of leaf shapes and color combinations. Picking coleus is like picking out paint colors, there's so many to choose from and they all have a slightly different feel.

We propagate a handful of our favorite varieties for sale at our nursery. If you're picking up plants here just let us know if a variety catches your eye and we can get you a few pots.

Crotun: This is one of our most favorite ornamentals of all. Crotus are upright woody shrubs that can upwards of 15 feet tall if left to grow. They boast waxy, long-lasting leaves that are rich with a wide array of colors, from orange to red to yellow and everything in between. Some have long, skinny leaves, some short and rounder, some have more green and subtler coloring, some are bright and bold. Each plant is a unique piece of art that can be enjoyed every day for years and years. Highly reccomended.

Night Blooming Jasmine: Want to enjoy the smell of perfume wafting through your screens and filling up the night air? Then you want night blooming jasmine. Night blooming jasmine is a fast growing bushy shrub that has smallish leaves and hundreds to thousands of small flowers that open up at night seasonally throughout the year. The smell is sweet and pleasant and creates a wonderful, even romatic, ambience. Ideally planted just outside your bedroom window or anywhere you tend to hang out at night.

Persian Shield: No this isn't the latest homeland security program against Muslims from the Middle-East, this is one of the most interesting of the coleus-style succulant ornamentals. Persian shield leaves have a stunning mixture of purples, silver, black, and white that in the proper light (like the moon light) make looks like the plant has an aura of electricity around it. It's a strong and interesting statement placed here and there around your land.

Purple Passion: We jokingly call this plant Purple Charmin, because it is so soft and fuzzy and is usable as a world-class toilet paper. It also grows like a coleus plant, but it's leaves are green and purple and fuzzy. If you live off-grid and use a composting toilet this plant is a must to be planted around your facility. You can pick dozens of leaves, set them in a basket and use them for up to a week. They can be used in flush toilets too, and can just be planted around the land as "eye-candy". Whatever your preference, it's sure to please.

Ti: Red, pink, green, black, cream, and more. There's a lot of colors of ti, the sacred plant of the Hawaiians. It's used for leis, hula skirts, bracelets, thatching, plates, goat food, and of course for beauty. We have several varieties that you might want to add to your collection.

Wild Orchids: We have a handful of orchids that have naturalized on our land. When we clear areas we put them in pots and replant them or share them with others. If you're at the nursery and are interested ask and we'll show you what they look like in the ground. These will spread by windborn seed, so if the wind of fortunes smile upon you might get them to spread all over your land too.


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