Special collections are organized by various intersecting themes,
including taxonomy, geography, culture, and ethnobotanical use.

A collection of plants, a collection of collections

The great collection of plants at UH Mānoa is an assemblage of interlocking special collections, of different kinds of plants. Special collections are important for public gardens because they support educational, research, and interpretive programs; help landscape curators focus their efforts; and help visitors find the plants that most interest them.

Unlike the typical public garden, our collections (with some important exceptions) are not separated spatially, because our situation differs from the typical arboretum or botanical garden. Most public gardens serve transient visitors, who come to the gardens briefly and are focused on the collections, while our landscape primarily serves regular occupants, who inhabit the campus on a steady basis and who each tend to stay in a particular area of campus. Interweaving our collections gives us more kinds of plants in any particular area, exposing the campus community to more plant diversity. It also means that people exploring different collections may be drawn to more areas of the campus.

Thematic Collections

Collections may be organized by various themes, including taxonomy, biogeography, culture, and ethnobotany. Of course, these themes often intersect, and most plants belong to more that one grouping.

Taxonomic collections are organized according to the scientific classification of the plant, and may be at the level of family (e.g. flowering trees in the legume family, Fabaceae), species (e.g. our collection of Ficus), or variety (e.g. the wonderful array of colors and scents in Plumeria rubra cultivars). Two of our outstanding taxonomic collections are the Palm Garden (family Arecaceae) near Hawai‘i Hall, and the varietal collection of Colocasia esculenta in the Ka Papa Lo‘i O Kānewai cultural garden, showcasing the native agrobiodiversity of kalo.

Cultural collections focus on plants and plant assemblages of cultural significance. In Hawai‘i the most important of these are the "canoe plants" brought from southern Polynesia by the first Hawaiians, about half of which are trees. More recent cosmopolitan introductions have also gained importance in Hawaiian culture, such as the fragrant species used for lei. Contemporary Hawai‘i also enjoys a multicultural society built from the interaction of a number of settler groups, which have each brought their cultural keystone plants; their inclusion in the UH Mānoa collection is a good way to enable students, scholars, staff and visitors to feel "at home" on campus, while providing educational resources for classes.

Ethnobotanical collections highlight the relationships people have with plants, usually organized in terms of use. The trees and vines used for lei, mentioned above, is one example; others collections on campus include fruit trees, fiber plants, and medicinal plants.

Biogeographic collections may reflect either regions or physiogeographic or ecological zones, such as islands or tropical dry forests. Our most important biogeographical collections are the native plants unique to our islands. UH Mānoa supports collections of plants from other Pacific islands, and many of the cultural collections also have a geographic orientation.

Collections Management

Some of the thematic collections are curated by specialists with expertise in those particular groups of plants. Curators work with the Campus Plants Collections Committee (CoCo), which is responsible for setting policy for the overall collection. Activities approved by the committee are implemented by BGM / Landscape Services staff. The Director of BGM serves as the Acting Curator for the overall collection.

Our Collections Policy — including our policy on invasiv e species — serves as a governing document for the grounds managed directly by the Campus Arboretum, and as an advisory document for the other entities which manage land holdings belonging to the University. It explains the overall philosophy behind the university's plant collections, and describes our several kinds of thematic collections. It sets protocols for accessioning and de-accessioning plants, and specifies the kinds of records that need to be maintained. Finally, it clarifies our protocols for access to and use of the collection, to ensure that we preserve the greatest value of these plants for the community.

The Collections Policy can be revised as needed by the Collections Committee.

Campus Plants Collections Committee (CoCo) members

Celebrated Trees

In addition to the thematic collections, which are comprised of species (or other taxa), UH Mānoa also has a couple collections of trees whose importance belongs to the individual tree, which are remarkable for their planting history or their particular character. Trees which were planted by particular people, or as memorials to people or occasions, are listed on the namesake trees page. We also have seven state-lested Exceptional Trees, described below (largely from the UHM Campus Heritage Report).

Exceptional Trees


Adansonia digitata


Located near the Art Building, this tree is one of the largest on campus. Native to Africa, it dominates the landscape with its enormous trunk. Many useful products can be created from this tree. From the fruit comes an exotic drink and from the roots, a red dye. The bark, can be made into rope and medicine.


Cannonball tree

Couroupita guianensis


Planted in 1933 by the playwright Thornton Wilder on the makai side of Sinclair Library, the Cannonball tree is nearing extinction in the wild. Native to northeastern South America, the tree is named for the dozens of round, rust-colored grapefruit-like ‘cannonballs’ clustered around the trunk, which crash down to the ground when ripe, releasing a pungent odor. When first in bloom, highly fragrant salmon-colored flowers emerge in clusters around the trunk of the tree. These bloom for only one day before transforming into the ‘cannonballs,’ which takes about 18 months to mature.



Hernandia nymphaeifolia


Handsome tree native throughout the tropics, with low-density wood sometimes used for canoes or floats; also used medicinally. The waxy lantern-like fruits give this tree its name.



Barringtonia asiatica


Located on McCarthy Mall near Bilger Hall, this tree has broad leaves, large woody fruits, and white flowers that resemble shaving brushes. in some areas of the Pacific, the seed is crushed, mixed with water and thrown into tidal pools or quiet streams to stun fish for easier catching.


Rubber Tree

Ficus elastica


Planted by University president David Starr Jordan in 1922, between Sinclair Library and Campus Road, the Indian Rubber tree is native to the areas between northeast India and south Indonesia.


Skunk Tree

Sterculia foetida


Native of the tropics, the wine-red, orange and yellow owers of this tree emit a strong skunky odor. The tree, located on the ‘ewa-mauka corner of the Quadrangle, was planted in 1928 in honor of the eminent horticulturist and botanist, Liberty Hyde Bailey, who was a world-renowned authority on palms. It has an unusual fruit with black seeds resembling olives.



Wallaceodendron celebicum


Located between Sinclair Library and Campus road, this tree is native to Indonesia and the Philippines. It is a relative of the Monkey Pod, producing similar flowers and foliage. The tree is also a memorial to Joseph Rock.

Contact Us

UH Campus Arboretum

2525 Maile Way

Honolulu, HI  96822

ph: 808.956.8297

fx: 808.956.4075

e: uhmtrees@hawaii.edu

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