[permaculture] Perennial Ground Covers for Hawaii...etc.

John Schinnerer eco_living at yahoo.com
Sat Mar 9 15:54:38 EST 2002


Where exactly is your old macnut orchard? I've got a bit of land in
lower puna...

One groundcover to look into is a perennial peanut that some folks are
using.  Pangaia community uses it (http://pangaia.cc/) - they gave me
some starts which I have put into a small trial area at my place.  They
have identified three variants last I heard, the difference being
height - the lowest doesn't go much over an inch or two and the highest
may lift itself up 4-6 inches.  
*Note* that this plant is a vector for the mosaic virus, which 'awa
(for one) is very susceptible to, so if you're interplanting 'awa or
other mosaic-susceptible stuff this would probably not be a good ground
cover!  And it might be good to not plant non-native mosaic vectors at
all...I heard about that aspect after I'd planted a trial patch, from
Nicolay at La'akea...the folks at Pangaia weren't aware of it.
I may get rid of mine entirely, or at least keep it far away from my
Other properties - it does OK in full to partial sun - doesn't
penetrate heavy shade much - tolerates occasional foot traffic pretty
well.  It grows relatively slowly - meaning it won't take over from
what you've got now, you'd have to establish it via sheet-mulching,

There are also some very low-growing bamboo that can be used as
groundcover.  Check with Quindembo bamboo
(http://www.bamboonursery.com/) up Kawaihae/Waimea area, or in Hilo
area with Lenny & Darlene's bamboo nursery at 959-4150.
>...and Ironwood Trees(50 foot monsters 10 times worse than the Guinea
> Grass).

Took me quite a while to dig out that what's called "ironwood" in
Hawai'i is casuarina of some sort, not sure which one though - may be
several types there.  As you've probably noticed elsewhere on the
island, it was introduced for windbreak primarily, I think.  
Some varieties fix nitrogen.  I'd call it a (non-native) pioneer
species in Hawai'i, as it quickly colonizes raw/disturbed open areas
(if viable plant material is present or introduced) and provides
windbreak, shade, possibly N-fixing and a typically heavy mulch layer
from needle-fall (they're actually leaves, I believe, though they look
a lot like evergreen needles to some of us ;-).  Mollison mentions
casuarina for coastal windbreak uses in the Designer's manual.  I love
hanging out in a hammock in the breezy shade of a puna coast ironwood
grove, watching the ocean roll in... :-)

So it makes sense that ironwood (and the other stuff you mention) would
pop up to "heal" an out-of-production macnut farm (disturbed/open/raw
monoculture land) that wasn't getting the usual heavy herbicide
spraying any longer.

I've heard mixed info about ironwood wood. It's very hard and heavy;
some varieties are durable and others not very durable (according to
pfaf.org's database info).  I'm planning to experiment (building poles,
shakes/shingles, furniture, etc.) but haven't yet...I read of it being
used for shingles on a "deep-pockets-green" mansion on O'ahu.  I heard
someone say they tried it for fence posts and it didn't last.  You
might check with Larry Kuamo'o - he does building and restoration work
in traditional and semi-traditional Hawaiian materials and methods. 
Can't find his number right now but he's been working on restoring the
little old church down by Kaimu that was saved from the lava flow. 
Volcanoes park staff might be able to put you in touch with him - he
led the rebuilding of the hula hale there and consults for them

I'd say think of the ironwood as a resource in any way possible,
experiment, see what functions it provides.  Some varieties sucker
readily, so a chainsaw is only a temporary solution... :-o

If you haven't already, get in touch with La'akea PC gardens
(http://www.permaculture-hawaii.com/) and with Jim Albertini at Malu
'Aina (http://malu-aina.org/) and see what their approaches are, as
well as Pangaia.

In theory (and in practice in uncleared forest areas and at least one
small part of La'akea I've seen), once you get a multi-layer forest
canopy established the invasive grasses (and future ironwoods, etc.)
will get shaded out.  You might consider planting a "fast" initial
shade canopy using quick-growing, filtered shade providing, N-fixing
green-mulch-producing trees like albizia and some similar, possibly
better ones that La'akea and Pangaia have had success with.  Most stuff
will grow just fine (better, in fact, in the tropical sun, according to
Mollison and others) under this partial filtering canopy (saves the
cost of shade-cloth, too); if some stuff needs full sun the albizia or
whatever can be thinned strategically or tropical sun lovers can be
planted, stacked for height, on the sunward edges.

John Schinnerer, MA
- Eco-Living -
Cultural & Ecological Designing
Food - Shelter - Community
john at eco-living.net

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