The living collections in McBryde Garden are maintained primarily for conservation, scientific, and educational purposes. A number of them are also maintained for their horticultural, ornamental, cultural and/or medicinal values.
Hawaiian native and ethnobotanical species
Perhaps the most important living collection in the McBryde Garden is the largest assemblage of native Hawaiian plants in existence anywhere. Most of these plants are endemic (occurring only in Hawai‘i), and many are threatened, endangered, or even extinct in the wild. This collection is crucial for conservation, but also used for research and education. Species of particular interest are ālula, Brighamia insignis, a member of the Campanulaceae or Bellflower family. Brighamia is endemic to Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau; only a single plant is known in the wild. Propagation of ālula has been one of the NTBG’s great success stories. Another success story has been the propagation of Munroidendron racemosum, a beautiful small tree in the Araliaceae or Ginseng family. Extremely rare and endangered, Munroidendron is endemic to Kaua‘i and is found in the wild only in a very few locations.
The collections of ethnobotanical plants of Hawai‘i and other Pacific islands in McBryde Garden include 27 so-called “canoe plants” that the Polynesians brought with them in their voyaging canoes to ensure they had essential plants to fill their needs for food, fiber, buildings, and medicine. Examples include kī, Cordyline fruticosa, a member of the Asparagaceae or Asparagus family. Kī had many uses for the early Polynesian voyagers, for cooking, clothing, and thatching. It was also sacred to the early Hawaiians, a symbol of high rank and divine power. Another plant is kō or sugar cane, Saccharum officinarum, a member of the Poaceae or Grass family. Not only was kō important to the early Hawaiians, but sugar cane became a hugely important commercial crop in Hawai‘i in the 1800s. The Canoe Garden collection of these and other plants introduced by the Polynesians is used primarily in teaching programs that offer students opportunities for hands-on experience with the uses of these important cultural plants. The materials in this collection are also used by indigenous practitioners and hula schools for traditional activities, such as kapa making (cloth made by pounding the bark of Broussonetia papyrifera, wauke, or paper mulberry).
Other collections at McBryde Garden include species of conservation, research, economic, cultural, and horticultural importance not only in Hawai‘i, but also throughout the Pacific region and beyond.
Members of the Palm family or Arecaceae are economically important worldwide, providing humans with not only food, oil, fiber, and building materials, but with ornamentals and landscape plants as well. McBryde Garden has the premier collection of Hawaiian loulu, or Pritchardia palms, plus a diversity of species from Pacific islands and other tropical regions in its Palmetum. There are 23 Pritchardia species that are native to the Hawaiian Islands, including Pritchardia limahuliensis, which is endemic to Kaua‘i. The collection is important for conservation, research, and teaching purposes.
The Rubiaceae or Coffee family is the world’s fourth largest flowering plant family with some 11,000 species, including coffee (Coffea), quinine (Cinchona), and beautiful tropical ornamentals such as gardenias. A number of Gardenia species, called nā‘ū, are native to Hawai‘i and other areas in the South Pacific. Noni, Morinda citrifolia, or Indian mulberry,was introduced by the Polynesians and used by them for medicinal purposes and for dye. Scientists today are investigating noni’s properties for possibly combating tuberculosis and cancer. The more than 400 examples of Rubiaceae species in the McBryde Garden living collections include many rare or endangered Hawaiian and Pacific islands species. This is an important collection for conservation, research, horticulture, and education.
Heliconias, in the Heliconaceae, belong to the botanical order Zingiberales. They are related to the families that include Gingers (Zingiberaceae), Bananas (Musaceae), Cannas (Cannaceae), and Birds of Paradise (Strelitziaceae). ‘Awapuhi, or shampoo ginger, in the Zingiberaceae, was introduced by the Polynesians. Its most common use is as a shampoo and conditioner for the hair. Many of the Heliconias and their relatives have brilliant ornamental flowers that are emblematic of the tropics. These showy tropical ornamentals are much appreciated by visitors and are economically important for Hawaii’s cut flower industry. Their spectacular beauty and color visually enhance McBryde Garden’s landscapes, and the collections have considerable research and conservation value.McBryde Garden is an official Conservation Center for the Heliconia Society International and maintains accurately identified, documented, and labeled living collections of this family.
The magnificent Erythrina, or coral trees, are members of the Fabaceae or Bean family. They display their brilliant red or orange flowers during the warm spring and summer months. McBryde Garden maintains a collection for research, conservation, and horticultural purposes. The endemic Hawaiian coral tree, Erythrina sandwicensis, known as wiliwili, is part of this collection. It is an unusual, perhaps unique, member of this family because of the variation in the colors of its flowers, from orange to yellow and even green and white. A recently introduced predator, the tiny Erythrina gall wasp, threatens coral trees in the Hawaiian Islands and many tropical areas, making it imperative that these important trees be conserved.