Some plants are recognized for their visual beauty, for their fascinating shapes or smells, for their rarity, or for their ethnobotanical or research value. Many offer combinations of these characteristics.
We invite you to experience these plants. If you live near one of our gardens, make a date to see these plants first hand by visiting tours.ntbg.org and selecting the garden of your choice. Regardless, we hope you enjoy seeing some of these remarkable creations of nature.
McBryde Featured Plant: Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow
Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow gets its common name from the changing colors of its flowers, which emerge as deep violet the first day, turn lavender the second, finally turning white on the third day before dropping to the ground.
Brunfelsia grandiflora is a medium-sized tropical evergreen tree native to Brazil.
It is a member of Solanaceae (nightshade family) which includes such diverse plants as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, chilis, peppers, belladonna, tobacco, and petunias. The genus Brunfelsia includes around 40 different trees and shrubs, many of which possess toxins and medicinal alkaloids.
A handsome specimen of yesterday-today-and-tomorrow grows between the tram stop and the stairs down to the Reading Palms Walk.
Best seen: throughout the year
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: St. Thomas bean
Rare is the person who can walk past the St. Thomas bean (Entada phaseoloides) without pausing to marvel or ask “what is that?!” This very large liana (long-stemmed woody vine) grows like a thick tangle of curlicue botanical cables, using a nearby tree (a monkey pod in the case of the pictured specimen) on which to grow.
St. Thomas bean is found from East Africa to the Austral islands (French Polynesia), the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and – infrequently – in Hawai‘i.
This species has a number of different local names, some of which refer to the stems water-like sap that can be consumed if no other water is available. The long stems can also be used like cordage although they are very thick and require a metal knife to sever. This member of Fabaceae (legume family) produces large, woody pods which contain brown seeds which are strung into lei.
A jumble of St. Thomas bean vine hangs down from a monkeypod tree in the middle of the self-guided tour route between a Walk Among the Natives and the Reading Palms Walk.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=4612
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Blue mahoe
Blue mahoe (Hibiscus elatus), a native to Jamaica where it’s the national tree, is also native to Cuba and is naturalized in Puerto Rico.
This fast growing tree can be used in sustainable forestry projects, growing in a broad range up to 4,000 feet.
It is an attractive ornamental with large, striking red flowers, but is best known for its handsome wood. The name ‘mahoe’ is derived from a Carib Indian word while the ‘blue’ refers to bluish streaks in the otherwise blonde wood that gives the tree its characteristic appearance and makes for visually stunning and durable furniture. Wood from the straight trunk is used for cabinetry, gunstock, picture frames, and other carvings. The inner bark has been used in Cuba for bundling cigars.
A blue mahoe tree grows in the upper part of the McBryde Garden on a slope rising to the west above Big Valley, not far from the rest station. Look for the large, deep red flowers on the ground.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11955
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Royal poinciana
While the royal poinciana, Delonix regia, is perhaps better known at NTBG’s garden in Florida, this vibrant flowering tree can be seen at the garden in Hawai‘i and along some roadsides and parks.
Also called flamboyant, this distinctive member of the bean family (Fabacaeae) produces a dense canopy of shocking reddish-orange or, less commonly, yellow flower clusters. Squat trunks and sprawling gray branches are often twisting and gnarled. Some trees grow up to 40 feet or higher, making a good source of shade. Like other members of its family, such as monekypod and shower trees, this fanciful tree has large feather-like leaves.
Royal poinciana is native to Madagascar, but today is uncommon in the wild and listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Look for smaller royal poinciana trees in the upper part of McBryde Garden in an open area called Big Valley. Several other trees are scattered throughout the garden.
Best seen: mid-May through July
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=3945
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Portlandia
Portlandia is the name of a genus which contains five species, all native to Jamaica. In its natural habitat it thrives in full sun in a coastal limestone environment.
Sometimes called “bellflower” (a common name applied to any number of plants with no taxonomic relationships), the genus was named for the Duchess of Portland, who was an avid collector and patron of Captain James Cook.
The species in McBryde Garden is P. platantha, which has developed as a moderately small shrub. The blossoms are funnel-shaped and very outstanding, white with pink accents on the edge and exterior. Like many other members of the coffee family (Rubiaceae), this species has glossy green leaves.
Look for portlandia growing on the slope alongside the road just before the Spice of Life trail.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on another species in the same genus? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=9394
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Spanish elm
Spanish elm (Cordia gerascanthus) is a large, tropical American hardwood tree in the forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae), a number of which are recognizable by their scabrous sandpaper-like stems and leaves.
Native to tropical America, this tree is valued for its beauty and timber. There are some 250 Cordia species around the world, at least seven of which can be found in Hawai‘i, including the native kou tree (Cordia subcordata) and closely related “false kou” or Geiger tree (C. sebestena).
The star-shaped flowers of the Spanish elm are remindful of the kou trees except they are not bright orange, but instead a creamy white, turning rust brown with age. This gives the tree an appearance somewhat reminiscent of Japanese cherry blossoms (from afar) as the tree rapidly gains, then loses, its blooms in the spring at roughly the same time.
A large, sprawling Spanish elm tree grows on the floor of the Lāwa‘i Valley on the west side of the Lāwa‘i Stream, opposite the Conservation and Horticulture Center. (This area is featured on the Ho‘ike Tour.)
Best seen: April-May
Want to see more information on a related Hawaiian species? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=3380
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Sweet ixora
Ixora hookeri is called sweet ixora or fragrant ixora. Like other related species, sweet ixora grows as a woody evergreen shrub that produces large, somewhat loosely arranged clusters of long, slender flowers resembling a colorful fireworks display.
This Madagascar native was introduced to hothouses in Europe in the middle of the 19th century and is now cultivated worldwide.
Sweet ixora stands out for its powerfully fragrant scent which punctuates the morning air. Flowers have only four petals per bloom and range from white to pink, gradually turning yellow as they age. Unlike this month’s featured plant in the Allerton Garden (ever-blooming ixora), this plant blooms less frequently. Its wonderful scent is enjoyed only by those lucky enough to visit when it’s in bloom.
Sweet ixora grows on a steep slope amid other species of the coffee family (Rubiaceae). The Rubiaceae collection is just adjacent to the beginning of the Spice of Life trail.
Best seen: showy in spring and other times of year. The fragrance is strongest in the morning.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11885
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: African tulip tree
One of the first trees visitors to Hawai‘i notice is the showy but invasive African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata). With its clusters of large reddish orange cup-like flowers, whether rising from the forest canopy or standing alone by the road, this tree is noteworthy not only for its visual presence, but also more importantly the fact that it is one of the most tenacious species in the Hawaiian Islands.
Probably introduced as an ornamental shade tree, African tulip trees have soft, light tan bark and uneven trunks. Against the dark green, scratchy leaves, the brilliant orange and occasionally golden yellow flowers are visually captivating.
The seed pods, which can be up to ten inches long, are filled with hundreds of extremely light, thin seeds which easily float, traveling great distances and quickly finding new homes. Once this tree sets root, it is very difficult to remove. They are an excellent example of how weeds can be attractive even as they compete for water, nutrients, light, and space with less hearty native species.
Garden staff work to prevent the growth of new African tulip trees in the garden. Some large older trees can be seen growing on the periphery of the Lāwa‘i Valley and hillsides above the main garden. There is also a stand of golden flower-bearing trees above and behind the Canoe Garden in the upper valley.
Best seen: the trees bloom year-round, but there are periods when they are less conspicuous. It is virtually impossible to visit the Hawaiian Islands and not see this tree.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10642
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Staghorn fern
Look up, look down, look all around and you will find curious light-green thin, floppy fronds that appear as though they are “suction-cupped” to tree trunks and stumps. This well-known genus of 18 species is collectively called staghorn fern owing to the shape of its leaves.
Platycerium spp. are found growing as epiphytes (on the surface of trees or other plants) around the world, from South America and Africa to Southeast Asia and Australia where they occur in rain forests.
In horticulture, staghorn ferns are popular ornamental plants and often pressed against a wooden base or tree and tied on until they affix themselves. Once established and mature, fronds will develop a spore-producing segment and, like other ferns, spread naturally, sometimes producing new planlets in unusual places. Grown on large trees, staghorns themselves can achieve several feet in diameter. They can also wrap themselves around smaller, thinner branches or trees as in this picture.
Staghorn ferns grow all over the garden. Look for them on monkey pod trees in particular, but keep an eye out for them in surprising places like masses of hanging aerial roots or on stumps low to the ground.
Best seen: throughout the year
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Tiger's claw
Commonly known as tiger's claw or coral tree, these and other names reflect the plant’s frequently long, thin, bright red or pink flowers. The genus name Erythrina comes from the Greek word for red, though some species produce salmon, orange, yellow, and even white blooms.
Over 100 species are found around the world. Tiger's claws are native to places as diverse as East Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, and tropical America.
In Hawai‘i, the native species, Erythrina sandwicensis, is called wiliwili for its twisting seed pods (“wili” means “twisted”; the repetition of the word is indicative of the very twisted nature). Hawaiians used the light, buoyant wood for canoe outriggers, surfboards, and fishnet floats.
Unfortunately, since 2003 many species of Erythrina around the world have been devastated by the Erythrina gall wasp. NTBG preserves the beautiful species in its collections by taking special measures to protect them from this predator.
Erythrina can be found in many places from the Spice of Life trail to the Native Plants area to various spots along the Lāwa‘i Stream.
Best seen: many Erythrina species bloom in the winter, between December and February, but others that can be seen flowering at various times throughout the year
Want to see more information on one of the species of this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=4908
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Koki‘o ‘ula ‘ula
Koki‘o ‘ula ‘ula (Hibiscus kokio subsp. saintjohnianus) is an attractive shrub or small tree. This hibiscus has bright orange, orange-red or yellow flowers and slightly hairy leaves and stems and short bracts. This subspecies is endemic to the island of Kaua‘i and restricted to the northwestern portion of the island between 150m and 890m in elevation. There are about 10 populations of the saintjohnianus containing possibly several thousand plants.
Because the plant is tolerant of dry conditions, it is well suited for planting in dry, leeward conditions. The brightly colored flower makes for a good accent plant in gardens though it is not extensively cultivated. Two cultivars that are grown are called 'Hā‘ena red' and 'Velvet sunset'.
The subspecies and the English common name of “St. John’s hibiscus” are named for one of Hawai‘i’s most well-known botanists, Harold St. John.
A number of plants are growing beside the road that runs along the Native Hawaiian Plants area. As you walk deeper into the upper valley, the plants will be on your left.
Best seen: blooms at various times during the year
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=6215
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Huele de noche
Arachnothryx leucophylla is an evergreen woody shrub noteworthy for its profusion of bright, pink tubular flowers. In southern Mexico, where the tree is native, this member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) can grow up to 10 feet high.
Common English names include “Panama rose” (though it isn’t from Panama) and “bush pentas,” also something of a misnomer since it is not a true pentas. The Spanish name huele de noche means “fragrant at night” which it certainly is, though this varies somewhat by plant and location. Because of the flower’s beauty and fragrance, this is a popular ornamental landscaping plant, beloved by humans and butterflies alike.
There are two long hedges of huele de noche that grow in arcing rows on the steep slope that is home to many other species in the main Rubiaceae collection in McBryde Garden. Look for this slope on the east side of the Lāwa‘i Stream near the entrance to the Spice of Life Trail through Maidenhair Falls.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10045
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Pua kala
Pua kala (literally rough flower) is a member of the poppy family (Papaveraceae) and one of some 30 members of the Argemone genus native to Hawai‘i and the Americas. The pure white paper-thin pua kala blossom is as soft and delicate as its light green stem and leaves are spiky and unwelcoming. Because pua kala grows in the coastal areas of Hawai‘i where most development takes place, loss of habitat is a significant threat as are ants, scales, aphids, and other pests.
This species, Argemone glauca, is endemic to Hawai‘i and is most commonly found in coastal dry shrub lands on the leeward side of the Islands. The sap and seeds of this plant have been used in treating toothaches, ulcers, and warts.
Historically pua kala is noteworthy because it was the first Hawaiian plant collected by a naturalist traveling with Captain Cook during his first voyage to the “Sandwich Islands” in 1778.
Pua kala grows in the Native Plants area of McBryde Garden. It can be seen in small patches on low mounds beside the road.
Best seen: throughout the year
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Jackfruit
Jackfruit is one member of the mulberry family (Moraceae) sure to leave a strong impression. Bearing bumpy green oblong fruits often as large or larger than a good-sized watermelon, jackfruit seems to defy gravity by hanging from the tree’s trunk. Artocarpus hetrophyllus is of the same genus as breadfruit (arto means “bread” in Greek, karpos means “fruit”). Jackfruit is similar in color and texture to ‘ulu (breadfruit) though much larger, less uniform in shape, and with more prominent points. Inside, slippery yellow fleshy “bulbs” exude a sweet, fruity fragrance.
Native of south Asia, jackfruit (sometimes spelled without the “c”) has at least 18 names in India alone where the fruit is eaten unripe, dried, steamed, pickled, or prepared as curries, wafers, chips, puddings, and even ice cream. Other parts of the tree, from the roots and leaves to the bark and wood, are used medicinally, for musical instruments, dyes, cattle feed, picture frames, plates, wrapping food, and in temple construction.
McBryde Garden has a mature jackfruit tree growing beside the road just beyond the top of the stairs ascending from the Reading Palms Walk in the Bamboo Bridge area. The tree can also be approached when walking downhill from the native plants area in the direction of the tram stop. Look for jackfruit on your right, just after the thick, curly Entada vine and just before the barn-red gardener’s shed.
Best seen: mid-summer (July)
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=1219
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Cacao
It’s no accident this tree is called Theobroma cacao. Theobroma means “food of the gods,” and most would agree the tree produces a most heavenly bean. Slightly bumpy ribbed long football-shaped pods ranging from yellowish-orange to maroon contain rows of some 40 white seeds which are coated with a sweet pulp. Seeds contain fatty matter, caffeine, nitrogen, and an alkaloid called theobromine which is well-known to be harmful to dogs. Likewise cats, horses, and parrots should not be fed foods containing theobromine.
Fortunately humans can easily digest cacao-based foods like chocolate and have been doing so for possibly 3,500 years since the time the Olmec people of Mexico first ingested cacao seeds. It was what the Aztecs called cacahuatl that the Spaniards took back to Europe in the 16th century and began to add sugar, cinnamon, and milk to make the bitter cacao more palatable. Today the largest producers of cacao include Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Indonesia.
McBryde Garden has a very healthy cacao tree growing on the Spice of Life trail through the Maidenhair Falls area. As you ascend from the main road, the cacao tree can be found on the left about a quarter of the way up the trail. Look for the big hanging pods!
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11101
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Lecheso The lecheso (Stemmadenia litoralis) is a handsome medium-sized tree native to Central America and occasionally used in landscaping as an ornamental shade-provider. Lecheso is characterized by dark green glossy oval leaves which contrast beautifully with a profusion of pure white blossoms. The name lecheso (also lechoso) comes from the Spanish word for “milky,” a reference to the white milky sap which, like many fellow members of the Apocynaceae (Dogbane family), leaks from the tree and has a toxin which may disturb the skin. Lecheso’s white flowers, which bloom all year long, have an intoxicatingly sweet smell that is sure to please passersby. The flowers bloom all year long and, like the tree’s relative, plumeria, are often found on the ground creating a delightful carpet of white blooms. You’ll find a mature lecheso tree almost always in flower in the McBryde Garden on the other side of the Lāwa‘i Stream from the tram stop. (There are also two trees in Allerton Garden near the Cutting Garden and along the path from the Diana Fountain to Three Pools.) Best seen: throughout the year Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10686. To see an upclose image of the seeds of the lecheso collected from the plant in McBryde Garden, visit our Herbarium Database search page at http://ntbg.org/herbarium/detail.php?tempid=13632.
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Allspice tree Allspice (Pimenta dioica) is a slow growing medium-sized tree and member of Myrtaceae (myrtle family). Native to the West Indies, Southern Mexico, and Central America, the tree is cultivated particularly for its fragrant green berries which are used as a cooking spice. In Jamaica, possibly the largest commercial grower of this tree, the wood, leaves, and berries are used smoke and flavor ‘jerk’ barbeque meats. Jamaicans call allspice ‘pimento,’ from the name it was given by Spanish explorers when they first encountered it in Mexico during the 16th century. The English name allspice refers to the smell of the berries and leaves which is reminiscent of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper. Allspice has also been used for perfumes, cosmetics, and medicine. There are two easy-to-find allspice trees in the McBryde Garden: one grows along the Spice of Life Walk in Maidenhair Falls about three-quarters the way around the loop trail walking counter-clockwise. A second tree grows beside the road above the stairs ascending from the Bamboo Bridge area in the direction of the Native Plant area. Best seen: year-round Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=8885
McBryde Garden Featured Plant: Illawarra flame tree Among the many trees that explode into color in spring, few do so with as much drama and impact as the Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius). When this native of New South Wales and Queensland, Australia defoliates, its broad pale green leaves are quickly replaced with an arresting shock of orange-red flowers that contrast beautifully with the garden’s green and blue sky above. Closer inspection reveals the tree’s thousands of flowers resemble small waxy bells which create a brilliant floral carpet at the base of the tree’s smooth grey trunk during the four to six weeks the tree is in bloom. The most prominent flame tree in McBryde Garden can be seen near the top of the stairs which climb from Bamboo Bridge toward the Native Plants area. There are also two mature trees visible near the stream crossing in Lower Valley and a large, later-blooming tree near the Canoe Garden in upper McBryde.
Best seen: May through JuneWant to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=1853