The feeling is mutualism.

Mike is a gardener who loves Bosko’s carvings. Bosko is an artist who loves Mike’s tropical palms. Over the past years, the two men have formed a lasting friendship, one that a biologist might fondly classify as symbiotic mutualism.

In biology, symbiotic mutualism refers to the beneficial relationship between two different organisms in a given ecosystem. Brazil nut trees benefit from large-bodied bees. Capuchin monkeys are likely pollinators for the flowering Luehea speciosa. Black and white ruffed lemurs help out the traveler’s palm. Bromeliads or orchids live happily on the tall trunks of tropical trees. In tiki culture, I’d posit that symbiotic mutualism refers to the beneficial relationship between polynesiacs who freely share their passion, expertise, and skills. Mike and Bosko are exemplars.

Mike is a self-described plant addict who worked at the Zoological Society of San Diego for four decades. His knowledge of tropical plants is unmatched, and his home garden is phenomenal. Mike has introduced rare, exotic species in his back yard that few would ever see or recognize. As we sipped on Skin Divers and stepped through his garden, Mike would point out succulents from Hawaii, trees from Madagascar, and cycads from South Africa. Monstera were climbing through the cracks of a behemoth three-ton tiki, plumeria leaves were budding, and blooming orchids were nestled on a rare Bird of Paradise. Throughout, Bosko’s colossal tikis and fine carvings were cloaked by the leaves of palms. It felt like wandering through paradise.

Mike met Bosko through palm trees. Bosko Hrnjak, a pillar and pioneer of the tiki revival movement, was the first artist in the ’80s to revive the lost art of carving tikis and sculpting tiki ceramics. Bosko also loves exotic palms. When Mike read an interview that Bosko did with the Southern California Palm Society Journal, Mike reached out. Bosko was initially cautious – who’s this guy? – but when he showed up at Mike’s house and saw the garden, the two hit it off. Mike gave him an exotic palm as a gift. Later, Bosko gifted one of his carvings in return. From there, the exchange continued. The two are now good friends, and both have spectacular gardens filled with stunning tikis and rare cultivars.

Mike is also a self-described tiki addict. The Rano Raraku doubles as his private tiki bar and home office. The name pays homage to Mike’s travels and his favorite style of tiki, the Moai. The original Rano Raraku is the volcanic quarry were the Moai were carved centuries ago. Mike’s Rano Raraku houses additional Bosko carvings, mosaics, his own beautiful woodworking projects, color-coordinated swizzles, as well as an extensive Moai-inspired mug collection. One of his favorite mugs was specifically designed by Bosko for Mike’s sixtieth birthday. It’s a mug with a smiling Moai on one half and a frowning Moai on the other. Bosko wasn’t quite sure how Mike was feeling on the milestone birthday, but he had all the emotions covered just in case.

The sun was dipping below the hills as we meandered from the Rano Raraku back into the garden. When the night lights turned on to bid the tikis good evening, I couldn’t help but reflect: “You must be exceedingly proud of this garden.” Mike responded thoughtfully: “I am, most of the time. I love it when the tiki people come over. I love it when the plant people visit.”

“Other times, I’m like – what have I done!?!”

He smirked. I figured the daily gardening must be a never-ending chore. But, I also knew he loved his slice of Eden.

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