Landscape design drawings for the new Varney Circle planting (Janet Gillmar).

Varney Circle

Located at the center of campus, Varney Circle has showcased a number of landscape designs over the years, since its construction in 1934. While the figure of the cast stone panels of the fountain make an explicit connection to Hawai‘i, the surrounding vegetation has at times been at odds with this. A few years ago the nonnative (and invasive) Lantana surrounding the historic central fountain was replaced with a beautiful ring of kalo/taro (Colocasia esculenta); however, this species requires fallow periods, especially in dryland plantings, and it was replaced with one of our hardier native species, pōhinahina (Vitex rotundifolia). In 2017, the native planting is being expanded to include three more dry coastal species, in a combination landscape design and research project spearheaded by Orville Baldos of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR).

Dr Baldos' research focuses on sustainable landscape practices, including the selection of non-invasive and particularly native species for landscaping. In 2016, he proposed to the Landscape Advisory Committee (LAC) the establishment of a planting at Varney Circle that would use several complementary species, as a combination demonstration and research garden.

Campus landscape architect Janet Gillmar contributed to the design of the project, identifying aesthetic and practical criteria:

  • Appropriate scale, with broad space of grass ring around fountain
  • Potential "Lei" structure around fountain, within grass ring
  • Reflection of circular form of fountain (continuity of species, texture, height)
  • Clear view of the bas-relief art panels on column in the center of the fountain
  • Continuous planting, appreciating art, but not drawing people to pool edge
  • Straightforward maintenance, same soil & water requirements for each species.

In February 2017, Dr. Baldos and his graduate assistant, Aleta Corpuz, presented a poster at the National Native Seed Conference in Washington, D.C., which included Varney Circle as a demonstration site. They illustrated the complementary aesthetic and structural qualities of native plants with a mixed planting of Pacific lovegrass (Eragrostis deflexa), ‘ilima (Sida fallax), and ‘āweoweo (Chenopodium oahuense), showing their contrasting textures, colors, and forms (right). In their planting of this trio in an “appropriate setting for the fountain in the broad scale of Varney Circle,” Gillmar values the “fine texture, silvery green color... and low height of the prostrate ‘āweoweo providing a nod to the bas-relief panels” with the “texture contrast of Eragrostis grass clump & panicle stalk.”

Over the summer of 2017, Baldos and Corpuz, working in conjunction with Landscape Services and a great volunteer crew of CTAHR students (Rachelle Carson, Micah Grumblis, Nolan Johnson, Angeline Kaneshiro, Alex Lindsey, Christine Nakahara, and Kauahi Perez), dug the bed, prepared the ground, installed irrigation, and planted the new plants, which had been grown out in the UHM Nursery. The Women’s Campus Club supported this work with a grant to cover material costs.

Growing these selections at Varney Circle lets the campus community enjoy the beauty of these plants, provides classes an example of native coastal plants close at hand, and enables Dr. Baldos and his students to collect data from the field planting — an excellent example of the advantages of using the campus as a botanical garden.

New Plantings


Kāwelu • Pacific lovegrass
Eragrostis deflexa (Poaceae)

Eight species of lovegrass are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and have been used as a substitute for pili grass in thatching, and in tradtional medicine. The swaying tops of this bunchgrass are echoed in a hula step.

Provenance: Island of Hawai‘i.



Sida fallax (Malvaceae)

A coastal plant with striking yellow to rich orange to dull red flowers, used for lei considered good luck for departing people; the emblematic island flower of O‘ahu.

Horticultural selection.



Chenopodium oahuense (Amaranthaceae)

A trailing coastal shrub endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, with edible leaves (like many members of the Goosefoot Family) which are small and often fragrant (which may be why it shares its name with a fish).

Provenance: Island of Moloka‘i.

Preparation of the new bed at Varney Fountain.

Contact Us

UH Campus Arboretum

2525 Maile Way

Honolulu, HI  96822

ph: 808.956.8297

fx: 808.956.4075


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