In Hawaii, we don’t commonly see plants going dormant like maples, oaks, or birch trees do in the mainland. Quite on the contrary, things tend to grow out of control if we’re not rigorous about maintenance. However, there are some winter dormant plants that can bring you into a whole new world with their exotic flowers, colors, and leaf patterns. Their magic will surprise you when they Apparate in your garden from seemingly nowhere.
I remember when my friend, a skilled plant mom, asked me to check out her Calathea. It looked like it was dying. The leaves were turning brown and withering. An apparently slow, excruciating death for the plant—but more so for the plant mom or dad: “My baby is dying! What am I doing wrong? Did I over water it? Underwater? Does it need repotting?!” Panic strikes and hearts break as your beautiful, most loved plant is reduced to nothing but soil. Parents stare at their beloved empty pot, “My calathea! I killed it!” Remorse floods in—If you can relate to this experience by any extent, let me assure you, it has been my experience too. I didn’t know what was going on with my friends Calathea. Days go by, maybe even a week or more, we’re not keeping track. We’re trying to forget about our failed plant parenting. Just when we’re ready to start over and we’ve accepted defeat, a spike appears at the soil 2” tall. “It can’t be! It’s alive! It’s resurrected!” Elated, we hug and kiss our plant, completely thrilled by its reemergence.
My friend suggested it went dormant, but I wasn’t sure. I went to the god of all things plants: Dayne Johnson. He was able to confirm our suspicions! Calatheas exhibit semi dormancy. A brief period of die-back followed by new growth. Semi dormancy is differentiated from full dormancy by the length of time between apparent death and rebirth. Now, Calathea’s bring me even more joy knowing they take time to rest.
Awa’puhi and other certain varieties of ginger on the other hand, have a full dormancy period and are generally forgotten about while sleeping. The weeks go on and on and it’s almost as if awa’puhi barely exists. Then, randomly one day in the summer when you’re back in the Jungle doing something else, you pass by a healthy patch of spicy fragrant ginger leaves; take little notice and keep working. Two months go by and you’re back in the Jungle doing something else and these short bright red flowers catch your eye—Gasp! Awa’puhi! Rushing over to closely examine its size; it’s too small. Excitement fades to disappointment and hope starts a fire in your heart as thoughts of Quidditch and Gryffindor fill your mind. A week goes by and you return for inspection: not yet. Next week: still not. The third—ohmygod, how long does it take already!? Frustration sets in: “Grow faster!!” Stomping off, a month goes by till you’re randomly working in the Jungle and bright red flowers catch your eye again—Gasp! “It’s time!” You’ll come back for them at the end of the day… Then you get home and realize—No! The wands! I forgot them…
Awa’puhi, Zingiber zerumbet
Do you see how special dormant plants really are? Even though we don’t see them 3-6 months out of the year, when they finally do turn up, we cherish them and their unique characteristics “Dis-apparate” us into the magical plant world. Now that you know the secret power of dormant plants, come out to the nursery and get your own dormant plant so you can take yourself to Hogwarts or Narnia (depending on the plant) and experience the joyful bliss of sleepy plants.
Here’s some more plants that go dormant that we grow at Seascapes:
Dancing Ladies Ginger, Globba winitii
Other Dormant Plants at Seascapes
Amazon Lily, Eucharis × grandiflora
Pia, Hawaiian Bat flower, Canoe plant, Tacca leontopetaloides
Crocosmia sp. (semi)