Visiting Hibiscus Heaven In Waialua
Jill Coryell’s idea of a perfect day is to get out in the sunshine and dig around in the dirt. Never mind that she’s 67 years old. It’s what she loves and it’s how she creates her living art.
Coryell is known around town as the Hibiscus Lady. If you’ve ever gone to the KCC Farmers Market on a Saturday, you may have met her there, surrounded by her creations in almost every color imaginable: hot pinks, blue-black reds, lavenders, purples, sherbet orange and champagne.
Coryell is a hybridizer. “Every plant I sell,” she says, “I created myself.”
I went out to her nursery in Waialua to see how she does it. It’s fascinating: She demonstrates the cross-pollination process by rubbing together the anthers (those things that look like feather dusters) of two different flowers. We walk over to another area where she collects a seed pod from a plant in a pot.
And then she shows me the hibiscus that have been planted in the ground. If a plant doesn’t grow well, if it’s attacked by bugs or disease, if a flower looks too fragile, she discards it and tries again. It’s important to her that she sells only healthy and vibrant plants that will thrive on their own. To ensure they do, she says, “All of my plants are descendants of native Hawaiian hibiscus, so we’ve got the perfect soil and conditions for growing here.”
Coryell, a retired flight attendant with degrees in Hawaiian studies and anthropology, discovered her passion for hibiscus later in life.
“I was volunteering at Waimea, intending to work with native Hawaiians, and was asked to be a liaison with the American Hibiscus Society. I said sure. I grew up here and I thought I knew everything about hibiscus. After 10 minutes I realized I knew nothing about them, so I was motivated to learn.”
And learn she did. She was lucky to be hanai’ed by Barry Schlueter, the top hybrid hybridizer in the United States.
“He encouraged me to make some crosses, and I got seeds and more seeds, and eventually flowers and more flowers.”
She started selling her flowers at farmers markets – and “Hibiscus Lady” was born.
Fifteen years later, she’s turned what started as a hobby into a thriving business. You can find Hibiscus Lady online at hibiscusladyhawaii.com. Or call her at 637-9995. Most of her business is local, but she does ship plants to the Mainland.
I brought home two of her creations and intend to go back again not just for plants, but also because she is a delightful person to know. She’s like her flowers: sturdy, beautiful and unique.
Best of all, she exudes joy: “I just love what I do. I consider myself very, very blessed.”