Key player in Hawaii’s protea industry dies

Philip Eugene Parvin, who has been credited as the “father of the Hawaiian protea industry” has died.

He was 86.

Beginning in 1968, Parvin, a Florida native, became superintendent of the University of Hawaii Agricultural Experiment Station on Maui. There, he led work to create new hybrid proteas – and eventually an industry. In his research, he learned how to extend the flower’s vase life and other ways to make it a valuable crop, a former staff member said. He retired from the university in 1993.

In 2011, there were 25 farms in the state selling protea stems with nearly a million stems sold and nearly $960,000 in sales, the state Department of Agriculture reported.

There was no industry when Parvin came to Maui. He became impressed by two protea bushes that had been planted at the station by a visiting researcher, according to the publication Greenhouse Grower in August 1984.

“I had seen protea in California where they were regarded by the trade as a commercial novelty,” Parvin said in the article. “But I hadn’t seen mature plants covered with blooms. I thought to myself, ‘Why heat greenhouses (to offset the cool climate found at the Maui station) when it appears that protea can be grown as a field crop?’ ”

He embarked on his signature work by writing to botanical gardens in South Africa and Australia, the native homes of protea, for seed.

“Phil Parvin and proteas are synonymous,” wrote Maryke Middelmann of the International Protea Association in South Africa. “He was a larger-than-life personality who started his protea career growing these native South African plants from Cape Floral Kingdom at the Maui Research Station of the College of Tropical Agriculture of (the University of) Hawaii, probably as a result of an exchange between institutions like Kirstenbosch (botanical garden) and Hawaii.”

The horticulturist co-founded the Maui Flower Growers’ Association and the International Protea Association and was a member of the International Plant Propagators Society, the International Society of Horticultural Scientists and the Rotary Club of Maui, where he served as chapter president from 1981 to 1982.

In 1976, Parvin took a sabbatical from UH to survey world protea production and to evaluate world markets. He lectured and studied world foliage plant production all over the world.

Proteas of Hawaii of Upcountry Maui says on its website that its original farm was planted in the late 1960s by its originator, Gordon Dotty, with counsel of Parvin, who was a good friend.

The website said Proteas of Hawaii has the distinction of being the first commercial protea farm in Hawaii.

In 2007, a protea variety was registered and named the “Phil Parvin” in his honor.

Upon his retirement from UH, Parvin moved to Port Charlotte, Fla., where he sang in local choruses and other community activities. He died in Port Charlotte.

No services have been scheduled.