Nestled deep in Mānoa Valley and with an average annual rainfall of 165 inches, Lyon Arboretum’s 194 acres boasts a collection of more than 5,000 thriving tropical plant species. Since the Arboretum formally opened to the public in 1972, various themed and memorial gardens have been established in the lower grounds closer to the Visitor’s Center. For the more adventurous hiker, there are additional plant collections in our upper grounds farther along the main trail. Interspersed throughout these gardens and hiking trails are an abundant collection of trees, heliconias, gingers, aroids, bromeliads, native Hawaiian plants, and one of the largest palm collections found in a botanical garden.
Click on a garden name below to expand more information.
An area of particular interest is just below the main offices and reception center. This area is the Herb and Spice Garden. Visitors with limited time often enjoy walking around this area to see herbs from around the world.
Spice trees you can find in this area include: Cola Nut, Nutmeg, Clove, Allspice, and Bay Rum. The Herb Garden is separated into islands representing herbs from different parts of the world.
The different sections include:
- New World
- Edible Flowers
For more information about herbs, refer to the numerous herb books available in the gift shop.
Ethnobotany is the scientific study of relationships that exist between people and plants of a given area, in this case Hawai’i. Beatrice Krauss (1903-1998) was a renowned ethnobotanist who dedicated much of her career to studying Hawaiian plants and their traditional uses. In the 1970’s she worked at the Lyon Arboretum as a research associate and lecturer, beginning work on the in 1975.
The Beatrice H. Krauss Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden is designed to showcase those plants that were important in traditional Hawaiian culture, some of which continue to be of great importance today such as kalo (taro) and the many flowering plants used for lei. At present the garden comprises over 60 different species, including the 27 “canoe plants” brought to Hawai’i by the Polynesians who settled here over 1,700 years ago.
All of the plants in the Ethnobotany Garden are documented to have been used for diverse purpose including construction of traditional hale and canoes; making and dying of kapa (bark cloth); food and food storage; weapons, tools, adornment and ceremonial use. Sharing this information with visitors is one of the primary goals of the Ethnobotany Garden, helping to preserve a cultural knowledge of plants that has lost much of its relevance in modern Hawai’i.
The Medicinal Garden
Within the Hawaiian Ethnobotany Garden you will find an area dedicated specifically to plants used medicinally by Hawaiian people. It is important to understand that Hawaiian medicine is not something that just took place in the past, rather it is an evolving pharmacopeia that incorporates new plants and new ideas to help heal the body. Many of the plants in this garden are neither native nor introduced by Polynesians, but are plants that we have hānai (adopted) because of their efficacy in curing illnesses.
Kalo Conservation at Lyon
Taro (Colocasia esculenta) known in Hawaii as kalo is the staple crop plant of the Hawaiian people. In the Hawaiian cosmology, the kalo plant or Haloa, is also considered to be the elder brother of all Hawaiian people, playing a prominent part in all versions of the Hawaiian creation myth. Wetland kalo was grown on stream banks, in freshwater marshes and in “pondfields” called lo’i. A series of lo’i have been restored alongside the river in the Arboretum. These probably fell out of use in the late 1800’s but are now being regularly maintained by community volunteers.
Historically Hawaiians have recognized up to 300 varieties of kalo and today only about 60 to 70 of these survive. In 1956 Mr Don Anderson was hired as ground superintendent at Lyon and by the 1970’s he had amassed the largest kalo collection in Hawai’i, cultivating over 154 different varieties of kalo , of which 56 were Hawaiian. At one time what is now the lawn was covered entirely in kalo plantings!(see photo) During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the project fell into serious decline and attempts were made to store the kalo varieties in germplasm. Over the last few years we have begun to re-establish the Lyon Arboretum kalo collection by bringing varieties out of germplasm storage to propagate once more.
Visiting the Garden
As you walk through the Ethnobotany garden, you’ll see plant signs with symbols that denote what each plant was used for.
The Native Hawaiian Garden is a collection of indigenous and endemic Hawaiian plants that will grow at the elevation of the Arboretum, approximately 500 feet (152.4 m). It is designed to help visitors to the garden learn to identify native species, and to encourage their use in landscaping. The garden is also an important source of propagation and research material for the Arboretum. Most of the species in the garden were collected from the wild on Oahu but a few are from other islands in the chain.
The Bromeliad Garden is located on a sloped region, which visitors will pass by before reaching the scenic vista at Inspiration Point. An assortment of bromeliad genera (including the popular Neoregelia, Aechmea, Vriesea, and Guzmania families) are represented in several beds, defined by a border of liriope (Ophipogon sp). Not all bromeliads are friendly (the most well-known being the prickly pineapple), so be cautious before leaning in too closely to inspect a dramatic inflorescence or an intriguing pattern on the foliage.
The Betty Ho Memorial Garden is located along the A.D.A. path below the Visitor Center. The path is lined with a collection of beautiful, antique Chinese pots and a variety of colorful bromeliads. The memorial garden was installed to commemorate Betty Ho, who was a dedicated Arboretum volunteer for over 30 years. Some of the prominent plants that you’ll find on the walk are Alcantarea imperialis, Anthurium brownii, and Hedychium “Betty Ho”.
As you leave the Visitor Center and head towards the Native Hawaiian Garden, you will pass through the Stemmermann Memorial Garden.Sit down on the benches that border the perimeter and enjoy the view of the adjacent Mapes Memorial Garden. An occasional breeze may attract your olfactory senses towards the kwai-fah (Osmanthus fragrans) shrub; despite its diminutive size, the white flowers have a strong, pleasant fragrance.
With the aesthetics of a Japanese-style garden, the Mapes Garden features a ground cover of mondo grass and a mixture of ornamental tropical and temperate plants. The garden features an assortment of foliage colors, textures, and shapes that may divert your attention from the spring-flowering camellias or violet sandpaper vine (Petrea volubilis).Take a moment to examine the patterned foliage of the calathea (which may be rolled up in a cigar-shape during hot days, a common characteristic of plants in the Marantaceae family), the shiny strap leaves of the bromeliads and the large, ruffled, plate-sized begonia leaves.
The trickling water from the brass lotus sculpture provides a sense of serenity to the atmosphere in the Young Memorial Garden, as visitors take a moment to relax under the gazebo structure. During the spring season, a petite hedge of attractive, pink azaleas entice visitors to walk down the steps from the A.D.A. path towards the space of tranquility. You may be lucky enough to capture an image of a flawless water-lily (Nymphaea sp.) in bloom.
The Economic Section, located along the main trail, features tropical trees and plants that are economically important, including trees used for timber, food, and medicine. Trees in the Economic Section include Acai palm (Euterpe oleracea), Cassava (Manihot esculenta), Durian (Durio zibethinus), Lipstick plant (Bixa Orellana) and many others interesting and economically significant plants.
The Arboretum’s Hawaiian Section offers a stunning view of upper Mānoa valley and on a rainy day, the upper sections of Mānoa Falls. This large garden section consists entirely of plants native to Hawai`i, including many large and mature native trees. Extensive recent plantings of the upper reaches of the Hawaiian Section have been focused on plants native to the Ko`olau, including many Loulu (Pritchardia sp.) and Koa (Acacia koa). The Hawaiian Section is located off the Arboretum’s main trail, about midway to `Aihualama Falls.
More on the Hawaiian Section and Native Plant Conservation:
The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most isolated archipelagos in the world. This isolation along with other abiotic factors including geological substrate and topography variation, extreme climatic contrasts over short distances creating a unique and a wide range of habitats have all contributed to a very special and unique flora. With less than 300 original colonists, the native flowering plants have radiated to over 1,100 species with one of the highest endemism rates in the world at nearly 90%! The biodiversity in our fern and fern allies is also amazing with nearly 188 native taxa including 143 endemic and 43 indigenous species. Nearly 76% of our native fern taxa are endemic! The other side of the story is that the Hawaiian Islands, like many other Oceanic islands are especially vulnerable to invasive species. This factor along with habitat alteration and human disturbances has led Hawaii to become better known as the extinction capital of the world with over 317 species listed as threatened or endangered!
The Hawaiian Section of the Lyon Arboretum is doing its small part in showcasing, educating and conserving some of the wonderful plant diversity found in the Hawaiian Islands. Not to be confused with our Native Hawaiian Plant Garden near the Visitor’s Center, the Hawaiian Section began when staff members, Bob Hirano and Ken Nagata, started to remove some of the large Falcataria species from this ridge section. According to our database, in or around 1968, some of the first plantings of native species took place including some Pittosporum, Metrosideros, and Tetraplasandra species. Ken Nagata and Grounds and Collections Manager, Raymond Baker planted a nice groove of loulu (Pritchardia species) in the upper limits of the Hawaiian section near the majestic Royal Palm grove in the 1970’s. Over the years many employees, student workers and volunteers have helped to plant and maintain the Hawaiian Section and within the past 10-15 years, there had been a push to extend the Hawaiian section and merge it with the Pritchardia grove in the upper limits of H34.
Since becoming collections curator of the Hawaiian section in 2006, Lïloa Dunn, has implemented a new strategy for the Hawaiian section (H34) which will increase the diversity of native plants in the Hawaiian section and further the idea of doing community-type restoration in the upper Hawaiian section. There has been some artificial delineation of the Hawaiian section by the author and it follows as such:
Lower Hawaiian Section
This part of the Hawaiian section starts from the Jeep trail and meanders up the ridge line through the Agathis grove with the older native plantings to the right. The upper limit of the Lower Hawaiian Section will be at the 2nd contour trail above the slope of Sapindus in the area that contains a grove of native Hibiscus species, some Pittosporum species and two keahi (Nesoluma polynesicum) plantings to the right. The Lower Hawaiian section, as was described earlier, represents the initial attempts to create a native Hawaiian plant section. Native taxa from across the Hawaiian Islands are planted here as part of our conservation collection and will continue sto be planted in the area.
Upper Hawaiian Section
The Upper Hawaiian Section begins at the end of the upper limit for the Lower Hawaiian section and continues up the ridgeline to the earlier planted Pritchardia grove. It also contains the shallow valley to the left of the main trail starting just above the Agathis grove. There are a series of contour trails (6 in total) that cross through the Upper Hawaiian Section and will be used as an artificial delineations of that section. The main focus of this Upper Hawaiian Section is to do ecological restoration at the community level. Instead of preserving individual species, our hopes are to preserve elements of native plant communities. Initial steps are underway by planting common native species in large numbers in hopes that these species will adapt to the site and reproduce. As these “commons” become established, some of the more rare species will be out-planted re-creating a familiar native plant community. Two major communities represented in the Hawaiian section will include: a Koa (Acacia) Mesic Forest and a `Ōhi`a (Metrosideros) Lowland Wet Forest (Wagner et. al, 1999). Other communities will be represented on a smaller scale include a Hala Forest (Coastal Mesic Forest) and a Pāpala Kēpau/ Pāpala (Pisonia/ Charpentiera) Riparian Forest (Wagner et. al, 1999). Within each of these community-types, there are associated native species that one would typically find in intact natural areas. We have created a list of these species for targeted out-planting for each community-type.