By Léo Azambuja

Contractor Sione Manu, his son Ethan, and I.

I learned the hard — and expensive — way that I should thoroughly research whenever I decide to put any plant on the ground on my property. Fail to do this, and you may end up spending thousands of dollars to correct mistakes like I did.

I bought my property almost 20 years ago. I noticed someone in my neighborhood had planted birds of paradise along their property fence to provide privacy from their neighbor. So I thought it would be a good idea to do the same thing. I went to a local nursery, bought seven birds of paradise, and planted them along my property line on the right side of my property.

I thought what I was buying would grow and fan out like a traveler’s palm, which opens up on a single fan, almost like a giant peacock’s tail. But the giant white flower, blue tongue bird of paradise that I bought forms a neat clumping of plants and grows quite tall, taller than my two-story home.

That was one problem, its height. As the trees grow taller and weaker, they present a looming threat of falling down and damaging either my home or my neighbor’s home. The other problem is that the dead flowers attract rats and centipedes, and as the plants grows taller, it becomes impossible to remove the dead flowers.

The white flower, blue tongue bird of paradise, the root of all my concrete problems, pun seriously intended.

Another major problem was the plants’ root system. The roots don’t go very deep in the ground, spreading horizontally instead. Even though they are soft, the roots are quite thick and run like a web a few inches under the surface. In the course of the last 19 years, the roots spread under a six-inch-thick cement slab on the side of my house, lifting and cracking the whole thing. It wasn’t just ugly, it was a liability for anyone walking on that cement.

This year, I finally hired someone to break the slab and redo the whole thing. We’re talking thousands of dollars. I was lucky enough to find a Tongan contractor who did an amazing job for a very reasonable price. But it still cost me more than a pretty penny, something to the tune of a vacation anywhere in the world.

Needless to say, whenever I see a bird of paradise flower, its beauty is the last thing that comes to my mind. I know it’s all my fault, but I just can’t admire its beauty ever again.

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