By Julia Marie P. SchMitt, aifd, eMc
With the perfumed scented trade winds of frangipani (Plumeria), ginger and other tropical delights gently blowing over the Hawaiian Islands, it is safe to say this is paradise. The natural beauty is rivaled only by the local inhabitants’ openness to welcome friend and stranger as family in a spirit of Aloha. This has, for the past 23 years, been the stage for the Hawaii Export Nursery Association’s (HENA) annual Hawaii MIDPAC Horticultural Conference & Expo.
TOURS Members and participants from Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, Canada, Australia and beyond gathered for this three-day event at Mauna Lai Resorts in Waikoloa, Hawaii, July 26-28. They participated in nursery tours of Green Point Nurseries, Hilo; Floribunda Palms & Exotics, Mountain View; California & Hawaii Foliage Growers, Papikou; and Paciﬁc Floral Exchange, Keaau.
SPEAKERS This excursion was followed by a daylong conference and exhibits from experts in the ﬁelds of business and design discussing topics ranging from social media, strategic market planning, interior plantscape trends and high-end horticultural design. The presenters included a star-studded lineup:
- Audra Danzak, owner of A Garden Inc., in Las Vegas, and former executive director of Floral Design & Horticulture for all MGM properties worldwide
- Kris Caputo Hurley, agricultural marketing expert and founder of Caputo Consulting; Sacramento, Calif.
- Mike and Jonathan Senneﬀ, father-son team of Natura; San Antonio, Texas
- Kathy Fediw, president of I-Plants Magazine and owner of Johnson Fediw Associations; The Woodlands, Texas
- Alicia Schwede, founder of Flirty Fleurs ﬂoral design blog and magazine; Seattle, Wash.
With the inclusion of the ﬂoral arena into the program, designers Gloria Cheung Henry, co-owner and creative director of Flower Factory in Vancouver, B.C., Canada; Neville MacKay, CAFA, PFCI, owner of My Mother’s Bloomers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; and Alicia Schwede demonstrated the neotropical and tropical nouveau styles during a two-hour program that was moderated by Julia Marie Schmitt, AIFD, EMC, owner of Busy Bee Florist & Gifts, Marceline, Mo. “Florists have been a part of this program only for the past ﬁve or six years,”explained Hitomi Gilliam, AIFD, EMC.
THE EFFECTS OF KILAUEA
Embracing the theme “The Aloha Advantage,” the focus was placed on the quality of product grown in Hawaii thanks, in part, to the unique growing medium of lava rock cinder. However, with the eruption of the Kilauea volcano this year, it took on a new meaning. “Aloha means aﬀection, peace, compassion, mercy. It is in our state laws concerning mutual respect and aﬀection, which is warm and caring and with no intention of being returned,” commented Dawn Kitagawa, president of HENA. “We are ‘ohana’ [family] in the Islands. We share information. We work together for the common good of everyone. We were heartbroken with the eruption. Some companies lost their operations. They came to our conference, even with their losses, to help. They worked the conference even though they do not have plants to sell.”
“The Aloha spirit is not just a slogan; it is a way of life in Hawaii,” explained Enrique Martinez, owner of California & Hawaii Foliage Growers. “In two hours, friends lost their nurseries. Friends have lost everything.”
One such farmer was Robert Stearns, owner of Leilani Palms & Foliage, in Pahoa. “I’ve worked with foliage farms in Hawaii since 1983. I lost 100 percent of my inventory, which was on 11 acres. It is sad knowing the property is gone. It is a life-changing experience, which is bittersweet. We were told we had until Saturday to get plants out. The lava came in on Friday and, in hours, wiped out the farm,” relived Stearns. “This is not exclusive to the foliage farms. It is taking papaya ﬁelds, avocado orchards, orchid nurseries. Green Lake is now evaporated. As a farmer, you need to be resilient, or you don’t last long.”
“Farms are now buried 50 feet under lava,” explained Eric Tanouye, owner of Green Point Nurseries and president of Hawaii Floriculture & Nursery Association (HFNA). “We were moving orchids from one farm to another and planting for days straight, but the lava came too fast. We saved 20,000 orchids but lost 10,000.”
Some nursery owners, like Jeﬀ Markus of Floribunda Palms & Exotics, rescued palms from the lava ﬂow. “I planted my mother’s ashes under the trees from Leilani in a hope that this will give them all the love to help them survive. Nurseries even 12 miles away from the eruption could be aﬀected by the acid rain,” explained Markus.
The weather patterns have been drastically altered on the Island. “There is too much rain on the Big Island this year because of the eruption,” explained Thong Teng Neo, manager of Green Point Nurseries. “With the volcano, we now have new weather. The thunderstorms are now starting from the volcano instead of the ocean. It is now a challenge we need to overcome.”
According to Grayson Inouye, owner of Paciﬁc Floral Exchange in Keaau, “With the volcano, it has been a hard winter. The ash from the volcano has caused problems with the Anthuriums. It is like cement when it falls on the ﬂowers. If you try to brush it oﬀ, the Anthuriums turn purple.”
But no matter what Mother Nature is throwing at these farmers, their outlook is positive. “The future of the industry is optimistic. The economy is good. The demand for the product is good,” explained Tanouye. With the shortage of nurseries and the high demand for tropical products, nursery owners are looking to purchase more land and build new greenhouses.
At the end of the day, as the sun sets over the luxurious beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii, the Aloha Spirit engraved in the hearts of those who work the volcanic soil persevere as they continue to produce some of the world’s highest quality and most beautiful tropical ﬂowers and foliage.
What is HENA?
Established in 1993, Hawaii Export Nursery Association (HENA) is a nonprofit membership-driven organization of Hawaii nurserymen and women professionally engaged in the export of potted tropical ornamental foliage and flowers, dedicated to marketing, research, transportation and educational issues. Its goal is to supply premium quality Hawaiian-grown tropical potted foliage and flowers to the global market.