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
Allerton Featured Plant: Lobster claw heliconia
Heliconia caribaea has tall, broad leaves that point skyward and are accompanied by thick, strong flower stalks which bear big, waxy colored bracts (modified leaf-like structure). These surround small, inconspicuous flowers that are pollinated by hummingbirds, bats, or other birds, depending upon where they grow.
This particular species is often referred to as “lobster claw heliconia” for the shape of its bracts.
Heliconias are one of the world’s favorite exotic tropical flowers for landscaping and cut arrangements; most are native to the Caribbean and Central and South America. They grow as large rhizomes near the surface of the soil. They thrive in humid lowlands throughout the tropics but are found in greatest abundance in mid-elevation (up to 1,500 feet) rain and cloud forests.
Look for patches of bright red and dazzling yellow Heliconia caribaea growing beside the walking paths around the Cutting Garden.
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=5839
Limahuli Featured Plant: Doryopteris angelica
Doryopteris angelica is a native Hawaiian fern which grows in mesic forests nowhere but the island of Kaua`i. This very rare, localized fern is known in the wild from only three populations ranging from just a few individuals to no more than 20, growing in valleys at elevations of 2,600-2,900 feet.
Like most of Hawai`i’s native plants, it lacks defense mechanisms. The fern is extremely vulnerable to feral pigs, deer, and recently introduced alien plant species.
This plant gets it species name “angelica” from the wing-like ridges on the stipes or leaf stalks.
Look for this fern growing above the first set of benches under the hapu`u fern in the “Dave’s Forest Walk” section of the garden.
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=11934
Kahanu Featured Plant: `Ōhi`a `ai or mountain apple
Early Polynesians introduced `ōhi`a `ai (Syzgium malaccense), also called mountain apple, to Hawai`i.
This evergreen forest tree can reach 60 feet or higher and is recognizable by its oval glossy green leaves and bright pink to dark-red puff-like flowers which precede the emergence of pear-shaped fruits. These fruits are prized for their crisp, refreshing flesh, ranging in color from purplish to bright or light red, pink, and white. They are characterized as “refreshing” but also have a “puckery” quality.
`Ōhi`a `ai is used medicinally over a broad geographic range, mostly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, for treating mouth and throat infections, stomach problems, and other ailments. The tree’s bark is used to produce dyes for coloring kapa (cloth bark), its wood is strong, and it also makes a fine shade tree, but it’s the sweet fruits for which the tree is best known.
Look for `ōhi`a `ai growing in the Canoe Garden near the bamboo.
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=10916
The Kampong Featured Plant: Tamarind
While the exact origin of tamarind (Tamarindus indica) is uncertain, the tree is probably native to tropical Africa and reached other parts of the world through human transport. A slow-growing evergreen tree, tamarind is long-lived and produces dense, spreading canopies with drooping branches. Groups of fragrant, yellow flowers, spotted or streaked red, hang from branches and are followed by brown legumes with brittle skins. The fruit contains smooth, attractive seeds embedded in sticky, sweet-sour tasting pulp. The pulp of ripe fruits is used in many food preparations: jams, beverages, ice cream, sauces, chutney, syrups, condiments and garnishes, candies, and soups. Its young leaves and flowers are also edible.
Tamarind is an ingredient of Worcestershire sauce and various parts of the tree are used in a wide range of medicinal treatments. Valued as a source of fuel and charcoal, tamarind wood is also used to make furniture, flooring, and tool handles.
It is an ideal xeriscape tree for southern Florida, suitable for seaside locations or large open spaces.A majestic specimen of tamarind planted in the early 1900s grows at the corner of the gravel land leading to the Barbour Cottage.
Best seen: spring and summer
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10971
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Mango
Known as the “king of fruit,” mango (Mangifera indica) is native to southern Asia and particularly well-represented in the Indian sub-continent. The name mango itself is derived from south Indian languages.
Mango trees grow well in hot, dry conditions and can reach 100 feet in height with large, dense canopies that provide not only enormous quantities of luscious fruit, but wonderful shade. These towering members of Anacardiaceae (sumac family) are long-lived trees, easily growing for hundreds (some claim thousands) of years. Mangos are prized for their sweet, juicy fruit which can be dried, frozen, canned, pickled, or most often, eaten straight from the tree (with plenty of napkins!). Popular cultivars include Haden, Alphonso, Pirie, and Fairchild. Along with Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, and other tropical American countries, both Florida and Hawai‘i produce mangos for North American markets.
The blossoms (shown here) are used to make honey.
Mangos grow near the Moreton Bay fig trees. Mature mango trees can also be seen near Pump Six and the small plantation-era cottage (McBryde Garden) that visitors on the Allerton Garden tour first see upon their arrival in the valley.
Best seen: mangos often bloom between January and March; by mid-to-late summer the trees are laden with yellow, gold, green, pink, or red fruits
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7334
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Fiddlehead fern
This edible fern (Diplazium esculentum) is enjoyed in various countries across Asia and Hawai‘i. Although in Hawai‘i it is called by the same Hawaiian common name, hō`i`o, as its native relative (D. arnottii, ) this species is a modern introduction which grows denser and more aggressively than the Hawaiian species.
Tightly coiled fiddleheads have long been favorite Hawaiian dish, frequently eaten with ‘ōpae (fresh water shrimp).
One mo‘olelo (Hawaiian legend) tells of four sisters who had insatiable appetites that caused famine as they roamed the islands looking for more food. When two of the sisters arrived on Kaua‘i, the chief of Hā‘ena (location of Limahuli Garden) invited them to a mountain top for an elaborate feast where ‘ōpae and hō‘i‘o were intentionally saved for last, just before sunrise. The chief knew the sun’s rays were lethal to the glutinous girls but when they realized they’d eaten until dawn, it was too late – they were turned to stone.
This plant grows as a rich green groundcover around the garden, but look for patches marked as the 4th feature on the self-guided walking tour near the Limahuli Stream.
Best seen: year-round
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: ‘Ape
Fluttering in the breeze, ‘ape (Alocasia macrorrhizos) leaves look like oversized glossy green fans lined with diagonal veins radiating from a prominent midrib. One common English name, elephant ear, is often used to describe ‘ape (pronounced ah-pay), one of the most commonly cultivated plants in Pacific Island cultures.
Like kalo (taro), also a member of the aroid family (Araceae), ‘ape has an edible corm which can be eaten if properly cooked, but is less important from a cultural or nutritional standpoint. The corm, a thick semi-subterranean stem, contains oxalate crystals which irritate the throat and as such is generally eaten only in times of scarcity.
Its tremendous leaves grow skyward and make for a handsome landscaping plant or can be used in large floral arrangements. Alternately, the leaves make good impromptu umbrellas and can be used as wrapping or to cover an imu (earth oven) for trapping heat and steam.
There is a large clump of ‘ape growing in front of the Pi‘ilanihale heiau and near the ‘awa plantings in the Canoe Garden.
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=392
The Kampong Featured Plant: Barbados cherry
Native to Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and the Caribbean, Barbados cherry (Malpighia emarginata) is a small ornamental tree with arching limbs and dark green leaves. Its pinwheel-like pink flowers with bright yellow stamens – which are highly attractive to pollinating honey bees – give rise to crimson fruits, somewhat like a cherry, with orange, sour-to-sweet tasting, acid pulp enclosing three small, angled seeds. At The Kampong fruit production is high because of the many beehives nearby.
The fruit has extraordinarily high levels of vitamin C, resulting in plantations being established in Florida, Hawai‘i, and the Caribbean. Today cheaper, synthetic forms of the vitamin have eliminated the need for plantations, but Barbados cherry is widely cultivated in backyards. Fruits are eaten fresh, with or without sugar, or cooked and processed to produce sorbet, juices, syrups, and jams.
The tree thrives in the well-drained limestone soils of southern Florida.
Look for Barbados cherry trees throughout the garden – outside the David Fairchild Museum, along the main parking lot, and west of the Scarborough House/Tyson Dormitory.
Best seen: spring through fall
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7316
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Lotus
Few sights evoke the admiration of a newly opened lotus blossom. Nelumbo nucifera is often called the ‘sacred’ lotus because of its association with spirituality, especially as a Buddhist and Hindu symbol. Deities and Buddha images are depicted sitting on a lotus or bearing its flower throughout Asia. The notion of lotus as a symbol of purity stems from the plant’s ability to rise from the muddiest depths, reach perfection, and completely repel dirt.
Beneath the water, this aquatic herb has horizontal stems and large soft, smooth water-repellant leaves that stand above the water, making for a striking contrast with the large pink and white flowers which close at night. At the heart of the lotus is a prominent yellow seed pod which, over time, grows in size, turning brown and hard, ideal for floral arrangements.
Lotus seeds, flowers, young leaves, and the rhizome can all be eaten and are common kitchen fare in China, Korea, Japan, and India.
Beautiful lotus blooms in a pond can be viewed when taking the Ho‘ike Tour, which includes the west side of Allerton Garden. (They may also be seen just inside the entrance of the Southshore Visitors Center).
Best seen: late spring through mid-summer
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at title="Lotus">www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11893
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Koki‘o
Hibiscus cf. kokio, known simply as koki‘o, grows as a shrub or small tree.
This Hawaiian hibiscus grows in both wet and dry forests at elevations up to 2,600 feet. It suffers from grazing pressure from introduced ungulates like goats and deer, as well as pressures from alien plant species.
Koki‘o tolerates drought-like conditions well and is suitable as an accent plant in native Hawaiian plant gardens, especially on the leeward side of the islands. The increase of non-native grasses growing around these plants in the wild increases the likelihood that they will be lost to wild fires during dry periods.
Koki`o grows along Dave’s Forest Walk and on the hillside overlooking the ocean about three-quarters of the way along the self-guided tour. Look for smallish bright red blooms and stiff, glossy green leaves.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on Hibiscus? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/choose_a_plant.php
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Noni
One of the most well-known medicinal plants in the Pacific is Morinda citrifolia, called noni in Hawaiian and Indian mulberry in English.
Noni grows as a small to medium-sized evergreen tree which is easily identified by clusters of curiously misshapen fruits roughly the size of an apple. It’s these fruits, which range from bright green to yellowish-white and eventually translucent pale gray, that make noni such an important Polynesian introduction in Hawai‘i. Countless studies have been conducted examining compounds said to be effective at fighting a broad range of ailments when taken internally or applied topically.
The fruit of this handsome member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) has a strong smell and flavor many find disagreeable which is why it is sometimes called a “famine food.” Beyond medicinal applications, noni has long been used as a dye plant with its roots and bark yielding vibrant reds and yellows.
Noni trees can be found in the Canoe Garden as you approach the heiau from the parking area. Several trees also grow along the Canoe Garden trail along the coast.
Best seen: produces fruit and flower intermittently 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=7715
The Kampong Featured Plant: White sapote
White sapote (Casimiroa edulis), a member of the citrus family (Rutaceae), is a robust evergreen tree native to the highlands of Mexico and Central America. One of Central America’s principal cultivated fruits, white sapote is not common outside that region.
Clusters of small, greenish flowers form on drooping branches, followed by green to yellow-skinned fruits resembling apples. Each fruit contains up to five large seeds embedded in a creamy, white or yellow flesh ranging in flavor from bland to slightly bitter to sweet.
The tree is known to contain a number of pharmacologically active substances, one of which is used to induce sleep (hence its Aztec name cochitzapotl, “sleep sapote”). Plant explorer David Fairchild grew white sapote at The Kampong because he felt these nutritious fruit trees held promise for south Florida agriculture. However his efforts failed due primarily to the large seeds, thin skin, and delicate texture, the latter two traits affecting their shipping quality.
Several white sapote trees can be found growing along the limestone wall marking the garden’s northern boundary.
Best seen: spring and summer
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Plumeria
Plumeria is not native or Polynesian-introduced, but it is one of the most well known and beloved introduced trees in Hawai‘i. There are dozens of named hybrid varieties, but most people know this Central American and Mexican native by its genus name or frangipani, whereas in the Islands it is called pua melia. Colors range from bright white to yellow, pink, red, and shades in between. Many cultivars are fragrant, with it being said that those with shades of white are the most aromatic of all.
Many of the pointed-leaf varieties (such as P. rubra) completely defoliate during the shorter days of winter while the rounded-leaf Singapore variety, (P. obtusa), remains green year round.
Pua melia is extremely popular in the Hawaiian Islands for lei making. The beautiful cultivar in this photo is Plumeria ‘Grove Farm’.
Several colorful plumeria trees grow throughout the garden.
Best seen: in spring and summer
Our Meet the Plants pages have information on a number of plumeria species. To see one, visit www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=9243
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Water lily
A summer morning is the perfect time to gaze upon a newly unfurled water lily. Water lilies can bloom night or day and, depending on the variety, are sometimes quite fragrant.
Like the sacred lotus which water lilies are often misidentified as, Nymphaea grows rooted deep in the muddy bottoms of pools. Broad, flat leaves float on the water while a tubular stem lifts pink, purple, white, yellow, or even blue blossoms above the water’s surface.
A popular aquascape plant, hardy varieties can be found in temperate areas worldwide, with tropical water lilies growing in warmer regions of South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands.
Look for beautiful large pink water lilies blooming in the lower lo‘i (water terraces) near the Visitor Center.
Best seen: throughout the year
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: ‘Ulu
The potential of breadfruit, a member of the fig family, as a food staple for the hundreds of millions hungry or malnourished people in the world’s tropical regions is an important focus for NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute. Kahanu is home to the world’s largest collection of breadfruit, which provides plant material for the Institute’s Global Hunger Initiative.
‘Ulu, as it’s called in Hawaiian, has grown in the Pacific for more than 3,000 years and was spread by humans from island to island. Domestication resulted in hundreds of distinct varieties in cultivation, with Kahanu Garden having 120. Regrettably some of these varieties have already disappeared from their islands of origin.
Breadfruit is valued as a prolific fruit tree which provides an extraordinarily large volume of high-protein, nutrient-rich fruits in a broad range of ecological conditions with minimal care. The fruit, leaves, roots, bark, wood, and flowers are used from Melanesia and Micronesia across Polynesia to Africa, the islands of the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean, and Central America.
Most of the collection is planted in a grove near the public entrance.
Best seen: year round; most varieties mature in Hawai‘i around late summer or autumn
Early summer: long, male flowers appear
Mid-summer: dense spike-covered green fruits
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our varieties pages by the Breadfruit Institute.
The Kampong Featured Plant: Potato tree
The potato tree (Solanum wrightii) is a small, handsome, drought-tolerant evergreen tree from Brazil and Bolivia. Its large, star-shaped, purple flowers fade to pale lavender and white with age, reminiscent of its distant cousin, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia species).
Blooming year round, potato tree produces soft, dark green leaves, typically lobed in shape, often with small prickles. Unfortunately this short-lived tree outgrows itself in just a few years under most conditions. Because of their fast growth and abundant foliage, potato trees provide shade and protection to coffee plants that are sometimes cultivated under their canopies.
While not a true potato, potato tree is grown widely in the tropics and other warm regions for its ornamental qualities. Its soft wood makes it especially vulnerable to wind damage. In South America, it serves as a rootstock for grafts of a related species, S. quitoense, a plant with citrus-like fruits.
Visitors to the garden can view an impressive potato tree growing next to the main parking area.
Best seen: year round, particularly in the warm months
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Queen Emma lily
Scattered throughout Allerton Garden are dense clusters of thick-stemmed Queen Emma lily (Crinum pedunculatum) which stand out with their long, whorled blade-like leaves. Unlike the typically pure white flowers, this variant has a dark purple floral tube and purple-flushed blooms. The upright inflorescence blooms frequently.
Native to northern Australia, New Caledonia, and other Pacific Islands, the genus Crinum is a popular ornamental plant, cultivated as many hybrids and cultivars.
There are more than 100 Crinum species worldwide, yet the variant enjoyed in Hawai‘i is known as the Queen Emma lily because of the Queen’s reputation for loving the color purple. She is believed to have planted trees and shrubs that still grow in Allerton Garden so this handsome plant is a fitting reminder of the time she spent nearby. The plant’s abundant seeds are self-propagating, ensuring this beauty will be enjoyed for many generations to come.
Look for Queen Emma lily growing along the outdoor garden corridor between Three Pools and the main path along the stream.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see more information on another species called the Queen Emma lily? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11808
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Ko‘oko‘olau
Bidens forbesii subsp. forbesii is both a perennial and annual herb found mostly in wet forests around Kaua‘i’s north shore valleys and central summits. The showy flower head has bright yellow rays with darker yellow disc flowers.
The Hawaiian native species, ko‘oko‘olau, is imperiled by the typical threats to native plants – wild goats and pigs, invasive alien plants, and erosion which reduces potential habitat.
Bidens is in the daisy family (Asteraceae). This particular subspecies grows nowhere but Kaua‘i but the genus is found in other parts of Polynesia, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. As part of the efforts to protect this plant, NTBG is growing this subspecies in both the Limahuli Garden and in the preserve.
Look for this plant growing in patches in the Dave’s Forest Walk and the Landscaping with Natives areas of the garden.
Best seen: throughout the year, but flowers prolifically during the spring
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Kamani
Kamani (Calophyllum inophyllum) is a large tree in the mangosteen family (Clusiaceae), found from East Africa to the Pacific. It is favored for its reddish brown hardwood which can be fashioned into bowls for food or drinking ceremonial beverages, as well as canoes, furniture, temple carvings, and other objects.
It was introduced to Hawai‘i by the early Polynesian settlers, and in the Islands is considered among the best woods for carving. The flowers, leaves, seeds, and oil are also very useful: treating eye injuries, cuts, and scrapes; providing light, shade, and dye; making lei, children’s marbles, and whistles.
Kamani can grow over 50 feet tall and has simple, glossy green leaves which contrast with the dozens of yellow and white small fragrant short-lived flowers that bloom simultaneously. In Hawai‘i the name “false kamani” is often heard but that tree bears no relation to the true kamani.
Three large kamani grow in the Canoe Garden.
Best seen: flowers periodically during the year, particularly in late summer or early autumn
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=2196
The Kampong Featured Plant: Guayacán
Native to coastal and lowland rain forests ranging from Mexico and Central America to northern South America, guayacán (Tabebuia guayacan) is a sight to behold when, after the typically dry winter months, this medium to large-sized tree quickly looses its leaves and bursts into bloom. Loose clusters of bright lemon-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers open at the same time, offering a dazzling display of color lasting only a few days. Flowers are replaced with long, bean pod-like fruits and a mantle of green foliage, offering abundant shade for the hot summer months that follow.
In addition to its ornamental qualities, guayacán is highly valued for its dense, dark brown wood, making it vulnerable to over-exploitation in the wild. The wood contains unique chemical compounds that make it resistant to decay, thus its importance as a timber for outdoor use, including deck and lawn furniture.
A tea made from its flowers has been used to treat urinary problems and tuberculosis.
The Kampong is home to guayacán and a dozen or more related species and hybrids of Tabebuia. A magnificent specimen of guayacán can be viewed beside the pool, east of the Schokman Education Center.
Best seen: late winter to early spring
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=11901
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Torch ginger
Although there are no forms of ginger native to Hawai‘i, plants in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) grow well there and are often associated with these islands. One of the most impressive, and certainly among the tallest, gingers is torch ginger (Etlingera elatior).
This enormous ornamental flower stalk grows in clumps, sometimes with leaf stalks exceeding 15 feet high. The sturdy inflorescence rises directly from the ground, independent of the leaves, and is ideal for large floral arrangements like those found in hotel lobbies.
Torch ginger is native to Malaysia where it is called bunga kantan and is used as a food (in curries and condiments) and for medicine. Etlingera gingers are found across Southeast Asia and come in a wide variety of forms, many markedly different from torch ginger, sometimes with flowers that barely rise two inches above the soil.
Torch ginger, both red and pink, grows in the Cutting Garden. The red flowers are more prominent, but if you look carefully into the dense growth, you may also spot the pinks. McBryde Garden also has the much rarer white torch ginger growing above the Spice of Life trail.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on this species? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=4977
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Iliau
When people talk about a plant that looks like it’s out of a Dr. Seuss book, they may be referring to iliau (Wilkesia gymnoxiphium). This plant has a tall, slender stalk that can exceed 15 feet. At the top of the stalk is a bushy tuft of leaves (reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s truffula trees).
When mature, the plant produces a 3-4 foot flower stalk from the center of its leaves. Each stalk contains hundreds of yellow, daisy-like flowers which bloom overhead.
Iliau, which is endemic to Kaua‘i, is related to Hawaiian silverswords and greenswords, all of which are in the daisy family (Asteraceae).
An example of iliau is on the route of the self-guided tour, but you will find the plant growing in much of the upper part of the Limahuli Garden in an open area with clear views of the mountains and ocean.
Best seen: April-June
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: ‘Uala
The Hawaiian food crops kalo (taro) and ‘ulu (breadfruit) are perhaps better known, but ‘uala (sweet potato) has been called “the second Hawaiian staple.” This tuberous root plant is extremely adaptable and can thrive in dry conditions and sand or ash-based soil, making it a suitable starch source where kalo or ‘ulu are not practical.
The running vines are an attractive groundcover and the potato itself is an excellent source of nutrition, especially when steamed or baked. Like kalo, ‘uala can be mashed and eaten as poi. ‘Uala typically matures within 3-7 months of planting, giving rise to the Hawaiian expression: he ‘uala ka‘ai ho‘ōla koke i ka wi (sweet potato is the food that ends famine quickly).
Unlike most Polynesian-introduced plants which followed human migration from Southeast Asia eastward across the Pacific and eventually to Hawai‘i, ‘uala (Ipomoea batatas, a member of the morning glory family, originated in South America. How it reached Hawai‘i remains the subject of debate.
‘Uala grows in more than one planting area at Kahanu. Look for masses of creeping purple-veined green leaves with attractive pink flowers growing low to the ground on pu‘e (mounds).
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=6530
The Kampong Featured Plant: Jamaican poinsettia
This small evergreen tree, with its succulent, silky smooth leaves arranged in clusters at the ends of branches, is a real show-stopper when in bloom. Showy blossoms, reminiscent of crown of thorns and holiday poinsettias, arise from leaf clusters and consist of small yellow flowers surrounded by a pair of large, bright red, leaf-like bracts.
All parts of Jamaican poinsettia (Euphorbia punicea) tree exude copious amounts of milky sap when cut or bruised, like many other members of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). This sap is toxic and a skin irritant, which is probably why it has been used to treat warts.
Native to Jamaica and Cuba where it is rare in both and grows naturally on limestone in dry woodlands, Jamaican poinsettia is listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which regulates trade of the plant to avoid extinction in the wild. Jamaican poinsettia grows well in southern Florida as long as it is not subjected to wind or soggy soils. While slow-growing, it is an important nectar plant, attracting pollinating insects to its flowers.
A magnificent specimen of Jamaican poinsettia grows at the bottom of the stairway leading to the Tyson Terrace of the Schokman Education Center.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see information on a related species? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=5118
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Ever-blooming ixora
Favored by gardeners for its continuous floral display, ever-blooming ixora is one of the most widely used horticultural plants in landscaping in Hawai‘i. It grows as an evergreen shrub or small tree but can be trained into a hedge.
This species is Ixora casei, but there are many forms of ixora, including this month’s McBryde Garden featured plant “sweet ixora”. This woody shrub is native to Asia and various Pacific Islands including Micronesia.
Ixora, a member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae), has simple spreading or drooping leaves and small, attractive, sturdy flowers which grow in dense ball-shaped clusters. Many horticultural hybrids have been developed with bright red, yellow, orange, salmon pink, or white flowers. The name Ixora comes from the Hindu deity Ishvara (also known as Shiva). In India ixora is used as a temple offerings and in ceremonies.
Look for tall ixora plants growing near the Bamboo Grove by the Okinawan burial urn.
Best seen: year-round (it is ever-blooming!)
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=6586
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Māmaki
Although most members of the nettle family (Urticaceae) are associated with the plant’s stinging hairs that secrete toxins of varying degree, this native Hawaiian nettle lacks such a defense. Māmaki (Pipturus albidus), like many Hawaiian plants, lost any natural defense mechanism it may have once had as it evolved in isolation with few, if any, predators. As a result, the tender leaves (look for the silver undercoating) of māmaki are easily eaten by ungulates like deer or goats.
This plant began to rapidly reappear in the garden’s Dave’s Forest Walk once the alien trees were removed. Sunshine and nourishment caused the seeds stored in the ground to proliferate into shrubby plants.
The leaves of māmaki are made into a medicinal tea while the fibers of the plant’s bark are pounded into a traditional Hawaiian cloth bark called kapa. The plant also provides food for the native Kamehameha butterfly.
In the last five years, māmaki has quickly spread in the area of Dave’s Forest Walk, where the shrub forms a low-level canopy for other smaller nearby plants.
Best seen: year round
Want to see more information on another species also called māmaki? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=9025
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Naupaka
One of the most common coastal plants in the Pacific Islands is Scaevola taccada, best known in Hawai‘i as naupaka. This dense, spreading shrub typically grows low to the ground in patches. The bright green leaves are somewhat succulent and waxy. Naupaka’s flowers are white, often with purple streaks, and irregularly shaped with all five petals on one side, giving the blossom its characteristic “half-flower” look.
This blossom has inspired many variations on an often-told legend about a young princess and prince (in some versions he’s a fisherman) who were forbidden to be together. One of them flees to the mountains and the other remains near the sea. Where both perish, two forms of naupaka - beach and mountain - arise. The half-flower born by each is an enduring symbol of their unfulfilled love.
On a happier note, the plant’s seeds can be strung into lei and the leaves are often crushed and rubbed against the inside of snorkel masks to prevent them from fogging up.
Like many coastal areas in Hawai‘i, the naupaka in Kahanu Garden grows near the water’s edge, crawling over the black lava rocks.
Best seen: naupaka looks good year-round and blooms intermittently.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10272
The Kampong Featured Plant: Asoka tree
The asoka tree (Saraca indica) grows under larger trees and along streams in rain forests from India to Southeast Asia. Highly prized as an attractive evergreen tree for its handsome foliage and fragrant flowers, the emergence of bright orange-yellow to red blooms in spring and early summer are followed by equally stunning, dagger-like, crimson-colored legumes. While mature foliage is dark green and shiny, young leaves are red, hanging like handkerchiefs.
Believed to be the tree under which Buddha was born, asoka is venerated by Buddhists and Hindus because of its many religious, mythological, and cultural connections, including its association with the Hindu God of Love. The name asoka literally means “without sorrow” and is tied to the belief that the flowers provide protection against grief.
Asoka trees are threatened in the wild, due to demand for its wood and flowers, which also includes a role in traditional medicine. Fortunately they are desirable landscape trees and not uncommon in cultivation.
A magnificent specimen, planted in the early 1990s, grows along the gravel lane which leads to the historic Barbour Cottage.
Best seen: winter and spring
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page (which uses another spelling of the common name) at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10217
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Autograph tree
The autograph tree, Clusia rosea, is a common invasive species in Hawai‘i. Like the Polynesian-introduced kamani tree (Calophyllum inophyllum), the autograph tree is a member of Clusiaceae (mangosteen family). However, the autograph tree is so widespread and aggressive that those familiar with its growth patterns and impact on native flora will furrow their brow and grimace at the mere mention of its name.
Native to the Caribbean Islands, the autograph tree has the unenviable distinction of being listed in the Global Compendium of Weeds.
This tree is said to have a number of ethnobotanical uses including medicinal but is perhaps best known for its stiff, thick dark green waxy leaves which, when rubbed or scratched with a sharp object, retain the impression, allowing one to mark the leaves for use as “playing cards” or, as can be seen around the Hawaiian Islands, to leave one’s own “autograph” on the leaves.
There is a large autograph tree near the Thanksgiving Room forming part of a curved “wall” of green behind the white pavilion. The tree is easily overlooked as it is surrounded by other large trees.
Best seen: chopped into bits (some might say!). The trees are actually attractive year round until you consider the negative impact on plant diversity as these trees crowd out other less aggressive species in the forests. The plant is easier to control in a carefully maintained environment such as a garden.
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Octopus tree
Known around the world as a potted houseplant, Schefflera actinophylla is called octopus tree or, in Hawaiian, he‘e, a name derived from the long red inflorescence which resemble tentacles.
This fast-growing native of Southeast Asia and tropical Australia has a soft, woody stem and long columns of fleshy drupes which attract birds that spread the seeds, especially in forested mountains. These seeds can establish themselves almost anywhere, producing a tree that will quickly grow over, around, or inside another tree, or in a crack, crevice, or even on a solid rock or boulder.
From this standpoint, the octopus tree is very successful, but at the expense of numerous endemic Hawaiian plants. Today, alongside also aggressively invasive autograph tree and strawberry guava, Schefflera demands great vigilance to prevent it from spreading further.
Since Hurricane ‘Iniki (1992), the octopus tree has advanced dramatically in the Limahuli Valley. Staff work to limit and reduce the impact of this tree, but it can still be seen throughout the valley and across the state.
Best seen: octopus trees retain leaves year-round. In the spring and summer these trees produce long, attractive bright red inflorescence.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10292
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Passion fruit
One of the most pervasive (and edible) plants in Hawai‘i today is the South American native Passiflora edulis. Also known in Hawai‘i by the name liliko‘i, this plant produces large numbers of smooth globular fruits ranging from purplish green to yellow and even black.
Inside the fruit is a gelatinous substance filled with hard seeds. The seasonal fruit isn’t so much eaten as it is sucked or slurped from its skin and is a favorite for juices, jellies, and baked goods like liliko‘i pie. The vine bears spectacular purple, white, and yellowish green flowers.
However, in Hawai‘i passion fruit is extremely aggressive and can quickly overtake other plants, choking them out and forcing them to compete for light, nutrients, space, and water. There are more than 30 species of introduced Passiflora in the Islands including the wildly invasive Passiflora mollissima (banana poka).
Passion fruit grows under close supervision in small pockets of the garden. Look for dense masses of tri-lobed dark green leaves with palm-sized yellow fruits growing on or over other plants or objects. With diligence, liliko‘i can be kept in check and even enjoyed for its fruit.
Best seen: throughout the year though fruits are seasonal
The Kampong Featured Plant: Sapodilla
Sapodilla (Manilkara zapota) is an attractive evergreen tree with a widely spreading canopy of dark green leaves. From small, yellowish, bell-shaped flowers arise round to oval, rough-skinned, seed-filled fruits containing juicy, brownish flesh with a flavor reminiscent of a pear. All parts of the plant exude gummy, white latex when bruised or cut.
While the fruits are highly valued, typically eaten raw or processed, sapodilla is most renowned for its latex, called chiclé, once the main ingredient of chewing gum. In its native range, from the Yucatán Peninsula south through Central America, sapodilla is cultivated in plantations and periodically tapped to extract the latex.
Because sapodilla grows naturally in limestone-derived soils and is salt and drought-tolerant, it’s well-adapted to southern Florida where it is successfully cultivated. Unfortunately, sapodilla trees have escaped from cultivation and have been reported in both disturbed sites and natural areas in southern Florida. Sapodilla was classified as a Category I invasive species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council in 2009.
The Kampong is home to several cultivars of Manilkara zapota, early introductions of David Fairchild. Most are planted west of the historic Fairchild-Sweeney House together with many other early fruit tree introductions. Seedlings that may establish in the garden from these adult trees are removed as general practice.
Best seen: March- September
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7423
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Red sealing wax palm
This is one of the most coveted of all ornamental palms because of its arresting bright red crownshaft and leaf stalks (petioles) which make the tree stand out in any setting.
Native to the Malay Peninsula, southern Thailand, Borneo, and Sumatra, red sealing wax palms are also called lipstick palms, but their botanical name is Cyrtostachys renda. They are notoriously slow growers and are intolerant of even mildly cold temperatures (below 60F), but thrive in true tropical conditions, growing well in lowland swamps, tidal coastal areas, and along streams.
In their early years, young plants lack any hint of red and look quite unremarkable. However, if grown in appropriate conditions and given adequate amounts of fresh water, they will gradually reveal spectacular colors. Be prepared to pay dearly if you wish to add this to your own garden; these popular palms fetch top dollar at nurseries.
As you make your way downstream, there are two very large clumps of outstanding red sealing wax palms to the left of the path just before the Mermaid Fountain.
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=3870
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: ‘Akoko
‘Akoko (Euphorbia haeleeleana) is an extremely rare Hawaiian native tree. On Kaua‘i it can reach 40-50 feet, though not more than 20 feet on O‘ahu in lowland mesic and dry forests. Within the last decade, 15 known populations with several hundred specimens have been recorded in remote valleys, ridges, and gulches, only on the above two islands. The tree is threatened by habitat degradation from goats, pigs, rats, and deer as well as invasive plants.
Past conservation strategies have included enclosing small populations in fencing, seed banking, propagation, and outplanting in the garden. The ‘akoko growing in Limahuli makes up part of a mixed native Hawaiian forest restoration project designed to protect rare plants and give people the opportunity to experience Hawaiian forest plants they may otherwise never see.
‘Akoko is a member of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) which includes kukui, poinsettia, and the pencil tree.
‘Akoko grows in Dave’s Forest Walk. If you follow the self-guided tour map to feature #19 and sit on the bench, the plant will be directly in front of you.
Best seen: throughout the year
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Kō hāpai
Kō hāpai (Saccharum officinarum) is one of the roughly 40 varieties of sugar cane growing at Kahanu. It grows in clumps of tall green-gold stalks with irregular vertical maroon markings on the plant’s surface. Kō is Hawaiian for “sugar cane” and hāpai means “pregnant”, a reference to the plant’s swollen internodes.
Kō was introduced to Hawai‘i by early voyaging Polynesians who used this edible member of the grass family (Poaceae) for thatching, windbreaks, borders, medicinally, and, of course, as a sweetener. The early Hawaiians regularly chewed on freshly cut cane because the plant’s fibers helped clean teeth while the juice helped slake thirst when drinking water was not readily available.
It was the foreign introduction of non-Hawaiian sugar cane varieties in the 1830s that fueled an industry that saw massive waves of immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Azores, and other places that shaped Hawai‘i’s modern society.
Look for a half-dozen clumps of tall, lanky sugar cane near the beginning of the self-guided tour route.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on this species of plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10117
The Kampong Featured Plant: Candlestick senna
Candlestick senna (Senna alata) is native to tropical America but widely distributed throughout other tropical regions and often considered an invasive plant.
This small shrub displays a spreading branching pattern that resembles a candelabra. At the ends of branches are erect spikes of bright yellow flowers arranged in dense, candle-like clusters. Blooming throughout the year, candlestick senna flowers are attractive to butterflies. When not in flower, this plant displays green- to brown-colored bean-like pods that hang from its branches.
Although frequently planted in warm climates for its ornamental and drought-resistant qualities, candlestick senna is valued as a medicinal plant for the treatment of skin diseases, including ringworm, hence its alternate common name, ringworm senna. In Malayasia, for example, fresh leaves are rubbed directly onto the affected area. Its roots, flowers, and seeds are also prescribed in traditional medicine remedies. Scientific studies have shown the plant to exhibit some antimicrobial activity.
A fine specimen of this member of the bean family (Fabaceae) can be found growing across the road from the David Fairchild Museum, next to the limestone wall.
Best seen: throughout the year, especially spring to fall
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Siam rose
Rising up from the ground on leafless stalks, the large, sturdy blooms resemble big, waxy red roses despite the fact that they are actually in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). The species is native to the northern part of peninsular Malaysia and southern Thailand (the latter was formerly named Siam). The botanical name for the species, Etlingera corneri, recognizes botanist E. J. H. Corner who was its first recorded collector.
Siam rose grows in lowland, evergreen forests and swampy areas. The plant bears separate leaves which can grow up to 12 feet.
There are around 60 species in the genus Etlingera, which can be found from the Himalayas through East Asia, northern Australia, and into the Pacific. Some species are used for food and medicine and, owing to their size, shape, and color, are favorites among landscapers and florists.
Siam rose grows in clumps along the pathway leading through the Cutting Garden beside other gingers and heliconia.
Best seen: throughout the yearWant to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=4974
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Gardenia ‘Amy Yoshioka’
The gardenia is one of the world’s most fragrant and beloved flowers. The name alone evokes a sense of calm and beauty, but it is the powerful floral scent of the short-lived, pure white flowers that makes this shrubby member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) so popular. From Asia and Africa to Oceania, dozens of species of gardenia produce soft, white flowers that range from neat pin-wheel patterned petals to rose-like masses of curving, softly pointed blossoms that are outstanding against the plant’s deep, rich, glossy green leaves.
The genus was named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in honor of Dr. Alexander Garden, an 18th century Scottish-born botanist. This particular cultivar was developed from Gardenia jasminoides and is noteworthy for its abundance of large, strongly scented blooms.
Several showy gardenia shrubs grow in the Plantation Era Garden.
Best seen: throughout the year
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Baobab
Few trees in the world can claim the baobab’s distinctive form and function. This singular genus, Adansonia, with just eight species native to Madagascar, Africa, and Australia, is used for food, medicine, fiber, water storage, and even as houses, pubs, prisons, and bus stops. With gargantuan trunks that can reach epic size and disproportionately small branches pointing skyward, baobabs are also called “upside-down trees.”
The long-lived trees (possibly 2,000 years) that grow in dry scrubland or savanna are often barren of leaves and have gigantic caudices (oversized bulbous trunks).This Malagasy species, Adansonia madagascariensis, is native to the dry, deciduous forests of northwestern Madagascar and notable for its showy red flowers. According to one native legend, a person who picks a baobab flower will be eaten by a lion. Other oral traditions indicate that eating baobab seeds may attract crocodiles. Kahanu visitors needn’t worry about lions or crocodiles!
Look for a large baobab tree as you enter the gate just to the right and beyond the Visitor kiosk.
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=131
The Kampong Featured Plant: Victoria ‘Longwood hybrid’
Victoria water lilies have graced the Lotus Pond since 2007 when it was first populated with a wide assortment of aquatic plants. The ‘Longwood hybrid’ is a giant among aquatic plants with its spectacular and spiny lily pads and exquisite white flowers that open at night. These South American natives are found growing in the calm backwaters of the Amazon River where they produce flowers that last only two or three days. This plant’s varied textures, colors, and shapes offer beauty and grace throughout the year.
The name ‘Victoria’ is a reference to the introduction of Victoria amazonica water lilies to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew during the time of Queen Victoria.
This plant is a favorite of botanical artists.
These aquatic marvels and others can be observed growing in the garden’s ponds.
Best seen: throughout the year
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: ‘Ēkaha
Growing in gigantic rosette-shaped “nests,” ‘ēkaha or bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) are noteworthy for their beautiful, long sword-shaped fronds that point skyward and capture falling moisture and leaf litter, which help nourish the plant. Undivided fronds can be 3 or more feet long and nearly 12 inches wide. They are a deep, rich green color with dark brown or black midribs. The spore cases are arranged in a diagonal stripe formation that runs along the midribs.
These exceptional ferns are indigenous to Hawai‘i, other parts of Polynesia, and across Asia and as far west as the lowland tropical forests of Africa.
‘Ēkaha, like all native fern species in Hawai‘i, arrived by the forces of nature (wind, wings). Ferns make up one of the largest groups of native Hawaiian plants (by some estimates, up to 20%). Because this, and other ferns, retain their beauty year-round, they are popular for landscaping.
Look for enormous ferns growing along the Diana Waterfall between the Thanksgiving Room and the Cutting Garden.
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=1304
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Pineapple
Universally associated with Hawai‘i but in fact native to Brazil and Paraguay, Ananas comosus (pineapple) is the world’s most celebrated bromeliad. Hala kahiki (literally “Tahitian or foreign pandanus”), as it is known in Hawaiian, was introduced to Hawai‘i by an advisor to King Kamehameha in 1813 and may have been brought in even earlier.
Early growers like Del Monte, Dole and Maui Land & Pineapple began growing in the early 1900s with Hawai‘i’s production peaking in 1955. Gradually commercial production moved to Central America, Southeast Asia, and Africa in search of lower production costs. In Hawai‘i, large corporate pineapple growers have scaled back considerably or moved out of state entirely but smaller backyard farmers continue to grow this high-demand, slow growing crop.
Anyone who has worked in a pineapple field can attest to the back-breaking work of picking this delicious fruit which takes 18 months or more to mature.
There are several pineapple plants growing in the plantation garden site near the Limahuli Stream.
Best seen: because pineapple can take 18 months or longer to produce fruit, it is difficult to say when they are at their best. When fruit is present, the plant in unmistakable. When absent, it is easily overlooked.
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Ki
Cordyline fruiticosa is known in Hawaiian as ki or la‘i, though it is most commonly called “ti”. One of the roughly 30 Polynesian introduced plants, it is very common in both low- and medium-elevation wet forests and common in Hawaiian landscaping.
Few plants rival ki in terms of beauty and function. When the first Polynesian voyagers brought stems of ki plants, they must have found them very easy to transport on their canoes and replant upon arrival. The broad, smooth, slightly-waxy leaves were (and still are) used for wrapping, cooking, and serving food, as a means to cool a feverish forehead, for wrapping hot stones to apply to sore muscles, for weaving and plaiting into pā‘ū (hula skirts) and lei. The leaves are also tied to fishing nets to attract fish, in tropical arrangements and, among other things, planted almost everywhere for good luck and protection.
Ki is grown in many parts of Kahanu including the Canoe Garden and all around the heiau. There is an especially large and colorful collection of plants before the large terraced wall of the heiau.
Best seen: Ki flowers several times during the year, but its green, red, and variegated leaves are consistently beautiful all year long.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=3386
The Kampong Featured Plant: West Indian lilac
West Indian lilac (Lonchocarpus violaceus), also known as lancepod, is a medium-sized tree native to dry areas of the West Indies and northern South America. It is an exceptional autumn bloomer; erect, dense spikes of pea-like violet flowers arise from long, slender stems that arch outward from the main branches and trunk. The fragrant flowers, a great attraction to honey bees, are soon followed by clusters of twisted, flattened bean pods that persist on the tree.
While West Indian lilac is appreciated more for its floral beauty and the shade it provides in yards, parks, and gardens, the tree has long been exploited for other purposes where it grows wild. Its leaves contain poisons that are used to catch fish; they also serve as effective insecticides. Cordage is made from the fibrous bark that is easily stripped from the tree.
Visitors can view a specimen of this splendid tree growing adjacent to the celebrated baobab tree at the western end of the garden.
Best seen: autumn
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Shrubby simpoh
Dillenia suffruticosa is a large shrub or small tree easily recognized by its conspicuous, bright yellow flowers and distinctive sturdy, ribbed leaves which are used for wrapping food in Southeast Asia. Another striking feature are the plant’s red, wax-like sepals that remain after the petals fall.
This attractive tree is popular in the tropics and has become naturalized in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Java, and Jamaica. In Brunei Darussalam, simpor bini (as it is called there) is the official national flower and one of eight species of the genus Dillenia.
Shrubby simpoh is considered a pioneer species because it will colonize habitats other plants cannot. For example, Dillenia seeds can germinate on sand and will send down deep roots to reach water. The presence of simpoh is also an indication of an underground water source. Once established as a dense shrub, the plant provides shade needed by the seedlings of other species.
Look for shrubby simpoh in and near the cutting garden section of Allerton Garden growing amongst clumps of tall ginger, heliconia, and calathea. The tree is almost constantly in flower.
Best seen: year-round
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Common name unknown
Munroidendron racemosum, a member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae), is a medium-sized tree with a straight trunk and spreading branches that is endemic to Kaua‘i. The tree has smooth, gray bark and compound leaves with heart-shaped leaflets that range from small and olive-green with a soft velvety texture to larger, dark green and smooth. The small, pale yellow flowers grow hanging downward in long grape-like clusters called racemes that develop maroon fruits.
The Hawaiian name of this rare species is lost to time.
Munroidendron racemosum occurs naturally no place else on Earth but Kaua‘i. The tree may have once grown all over the island, but today about 100 trees grow in only four locations including Nā Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon. NTBG has a number of these Munroidendron growing at Limahuli Garden, in Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden, and at the Southshore Visitors Center. NTBG is saving the species through cultivation and seed storage.
Munroidendron racemosum can be found throughout Limahuli Garden, but the largest tree grows adjacent to the parking lot near the Visitor Center.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see more information on this plant, as well as listen to an audio presentation? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7754
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Niu or coconut palm
Although Cocos nucifera, a member of the palm family (Arecaceae), grows in greatest concentrations near the equator, they are found as far north as the Hawaiian Islands where they were introduced as one of nearly 30 “canoe plants” (in other words, contrary to popular belief, these palms are not native to the Islands).
While Hawai‘i has fewer varieties of coconut palms than other regions of the world, these trees (called niu in Hawaiian) play a significant role in Hawaiian culture. Around the world the coconut palm is known as the “tree of life” for its countless uses for food, shelter, medicine, furniture, thatching, cordage, and innumerable other tools.
Slow starters in the beginning, after a period of about six or seven years the trees grow about a foot a year and can reach a height of 100 feet in as many years. Some varieties produce hundreds or even thousands of coconuts (which are the seeds) in a year. Coconut water is considered a life-sustaining beverage, especially on atolls or during long ocean voyages.
Kahanu Garden has coconut palms throughout the garden, even on the top of the Pi‘ilanihale heiau! Look for clusters of coconut palms in the Mary Wishard Coconut Collection which grows between the heiau and the coastline.
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=3054
The Kampong Featured Plant: Green monkey orange
Green monkey orange (Strychnos spinosa) is a small, spiny, deciduous tree indigenous to subtropical and tropical Africa and Madagascar. Although not related to the true orange, its citrus-like, green-to-yellow colored fruits are packed with juicy, edible pulp containing numerous seeds. Like its close relative the strychnine tree (S. nux-vomica), the seeds of the green monkey orange contain powerful poisons and should not be consumed.
While green monkey orange is a traditional food in Africa, the potential of this little-known fruit as a crop for other arid regions has been recognized. Its leaves and fruits are also sources of food for browsing animals, including baboons and elephants. Green monkey orange is used in traditional medicine, and its timber is valued in carpentry and wood carving. David Fairchild produced ashtrays from the dried, hard-shelled fruits which were sold at the Fairchild Garden.
The green monkey orange (aka kaffir orange) has the distinction of being the first tree planted at The Kampong in 1917 from seed introduced from East Africa by David Fairchild in 1902. His original planting, east of the “Wedding Tree” along the limestone wall, can still be viewed today.
Best seen: spring to fall
Want to see information on a relative of this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10816
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Golden shower tree
Cassia fistula, commonly known as the golden shower tree, is a medium to large member of the bean family (Fabaceae) which exhibits its profusion of light, airy bright yellow blossoms during the summer months. The tree is valued for its ornamental and medicinal qualities around the tropical world. These colorful trees are from South and Southeast Asia, but are also known to grow up to 3,000 feet in the Himalayas.
In Thailand, the tree’s clusters of yellow blossoms, all blooming simultaneously, symbolize the unity and harmony of the Thai people and is the country’s national flower called ratchaphruek or khun. It can be commonly seen growing along roadsides there.
Besides its showy blossoms, the tree produces long brown seed pods which are filled with sticky pulp and up to a hundred seeds in a single pod. Unlike the closely related rainbow shower tree, the golden shower tree sheds its leaves when it flowers.
Look for a medium-sized golden shower tree in the northwestern corner of the Allerton fruit orchard. There are a number of other shower trees throughout Allerton Garden and the Visitors Center Garden.
Best seen: summer through early autumn (July-September)
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=2430
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: ‘Awa
The first Polynesians to reach Hawai‘i brought plants valued for their medicinal uses, one of the most important being ‘awa, pronounced “ah-vah,” scientifically known as Piper methysticum.
The Hawaiian name means “bitter,” but this plant is used for its relaxing effects by Pacific Island people. The most common method is to crush, mash, or chew the root where the mildly narcotic kavalactones are concentrated. When made into a thick, murky drink, dried into powder, or chewed directly, ‘awa causes the mouth to numb, sometimes tingle and, in larger doses, is said to induce a sense of peacefulness and contentment. ‘Awa is reputed to be an effective means to counter aggressive behavior and associated with elaborate welcome rituals.
This shrubby member of the pepper family grows well in moist, shady areas along streams or is often planted near kalo (taro) patches.
The self-guided tour booklet contains more information about ‘awa and shows the location of this feature.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=8956
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: “Cuban red” banana
Kahanu has one of the most extensive collections of Musa (banana) varieties in Hawai‘i, with at least 20 different banana types. M. acuminata includes this “Cuban red” cultivar, which is noteworthy for its reddish green skin and trunk. The flesh itself is a yellowish light orange and is very sweet. It has a very large trunk and can easily reach 20 feet.
One common misconception is that bananas are trees when in fact they are giant herbaceous plants with soft but efficiently “engineered” moisture-filled heavy stems and no true wood at all. Bananas spread from suckers (in Hawai‘i the term for child - “keiki” - is used) which grow as rhizomes from the side of the parent plant.
Banana plants are easy to transplant and spread readily. The fruit is tasty and nutritious. The leaves and stems are useful for everything from lining earth ovens to impromptu rain protection, eating implements, paper, clothing, and thatching. All this made bananas a “must have” plant for the voyaging Polynesians who first settled Hawai‘i.
Look for “Cuban red” bananas growing in clumps near the start of the Canoe Garden path.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on the species? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7767
The Kampong Featured Plant: Tree spinach
Native to Mexico and Central America, tree spinach or chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) is a large, leafy shrub with succulent stems and broad, lobed leaves. Small, white flowers are borne in flat-topped clusters at the ends of long stalks that extend beyond the foliage. Like some other members of the poinsettia family, tree spinach exudes white sap from stems and leaves when broken, and the flowering stalk may be armed with irritating, stinging hairs.
There is a good reason why tree spinach has also been referred to as the Mayan miracle plant. Young chaya shoots and tender leaves are highly nutritious and can be cooked and eaten like spinach. However, the raw leaves are poisonous and must be handled carefully. Plant parts are also employed in medicinal preparations to treat a wide range of ailments including diabetes, obesity, and kidney stones.
Tree spinach is fast growing, drought tolerant, and disease and pest resistant.
An attractive example of chaya can be viewed at the western edge of the Kampong’s parking lot.
Best seen: spring and summer
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Skunk tree
Even if it wasn’t called “skunk tree,” Sterculia foetida’s botanical name gives away its most recognizable characteristic. Stercus is Latin for dung and foetida means foul-smelling, a painfully honest reference to this tree’s unmistakable smell which is reminiscent of mothballs or musty decay. But what smells bad to humans is irresistible to pollinating insects.
Also known as “bastard poon tree” or “Java olive,” this exceptionally tall tree (they can easily surpass 100 feet), is native to the Old World tropics and found throughout the Indian sub-continent, east Africa, and Australia.
High overhead, the skunk tree has palmate compound leaves and produces large fist-sized green pods which gradually turn bright orange-red. As the pods age, they change to a woody brown and split open to form heart-shaped pods which reveal smooth grey olive-like seeds. These oil-rich seeds are sometimes roasted and eaten, but when consumed raw are said to induce nausea and vertigo.
A very tall, fairly well-hidden skunk tree grows amongst the stand of green-striped bamboo in the Allerton Garden. The tree is found most easily by looking down on the pathway for the distinctive heart-shaped pods and smelling for the unmistakable musty odor of the tree’s rust-colored flowers. The small attractive blossoms have outward curling petals like a five-pointed star.
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=10732
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Pāpala kēpau
Pāpala kēpau (Pisonia wagneriana) is a flowering tree endemic to Kaua‘i in the Nyctaginaceae or four o’clock family. Like other species of Pisonia, pāpala kēpau produces fruits containing a sticky sap used for temporarily trapping birds, thus the nickname the Kaua‘i “catchbird tree.”
This green, glossy-leaf tree is attractive though not particularly outstanding, but pāpala kēpau has an abundance of thin brown pods which are sticky to the touch and excellent for catching unsuspecting birds. Fruits may be straight or curved and measure around five or six inches long.
When colorful native Hawaiian birds landed on the fruits, their feet became stuck and humans were able to harvest the feathers (and then release the bird) for use in cloaks, helmets, and kāhili (feather standard) which were used by royalty. The sticky resin-like sap may have also served in another important function--aiding in the dispersal of seeds by birds.
Pāpala kēpau can be found on the Limahuli Garden self-guided tour main route above Dave’s Forest Walk, listed as plant #25. Look for the long, thin, sticky fruits.
Best seen: throughout the year
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Hala
With its thick, ribbed trunk, arcing ribbons of prop roots, and dense clusters of stiff spiked leaves, few Hawaiian plants are as distinctive as hala (Pandanus tectorius). Recognized both as a Polynesian introduced plant and a native, fossil evidence proved hala predated the first humans who probably brought it in their canoes for its many uses. These included making sails, baskets, mats, fans, clothing, mattresses, pillows, and footwear.
Flowers and bracts of the male plant (called hinano) are use for scenting kapa (bark cloth), braiding, and as a mild laxative. The female tree’s prominent fruits are sometimes mistaken for pineapple although they are unrelated. The fruit break apart into green and yellow phalanges or “keys” which can be used for lei and head garlands. The edible fleshy pulp can, however, irritate the mouth and so customarily it was only eaten by the poor or in times of famine
The coastal section of Kahanu Garden, surrounding the Fisherman’s Cottage, Hale Ho‘okipa, and north of the Pi‘ilanihale heiau is part of one of the largest remaining hala forests in Hawai‘i.
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=8353
The Kampong Featured Plant: Ylang ylang
Cananga odorata, with its drooping branches and bright green leaves, owes its fame to the remarkable yellow green flowers (“like tiny banana skins”) that dangle from stalks along its leafy stems. Powerfully fragrant, the flowers of ylang ylang produce clusters of green fruits that ripen black and form an important food source for birds and bats.
Ylang ylang’s sweet, exotic scent is one of the world’s most celebrated fragrances. Essential oils extracted from its flowers are used worldwide in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes. In 1921, with the debut of Chanel No. 5, ylang ylang, a key ingredient of this perfume, attained international notoriety. These same oils have been indicated in a number of treatments, including aromatherapy.
Ylang ylang grows in lowland rainforests from Southeast Asia to Australia. It has been extensively cultivated in various parts of the world for meeting the demands of its flowers, lightweight timber, and rainforest regeneration potential (it grows fast!).
A commanding 20 foot-high ylang ylang grows on the main lawn east of the historic Fairchild-Sweeney House, overlooking the picturesque Biscayne Bay.
Best seen: late spring through summer
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Epiphyllum cactus
Perched on a tree branch or growing over stone walls, the Disocactus x hybridus is an outstanding presence in Allerton Garden during the summer months. These cacti are also called epiphyllum or, by some, Christmas cactus or even orchid cactus (there is no relation to orchids). Evocative names like “orange glow,” “holly gate,” and “Mexicanus” reflect a multitude of hybrid cultivars offering a painter’s pallet of warm glowing pink, red, yellow, orange, scarlet, and salmon blossoms as big and showy as one could wish.
Whatever you call these Central American cacti, they are a welcome addition to any garden stroll, surprising and delighting garden visitors with their sporadic explosions of color. Lucky visitors will find the flowers most outstanding early in the day, bathed in morning sunlight.
Epiphyllum cacti are scattered throughout the Allerton Garden, found most commonly in monkeypod and kiawe (mesquite) trees, but also growing on the old lava rock wall that runs alongside the bamboo stand near the Lāwa‘i Stream.
Best seen: June-August
Want to see information on another cultivar of Disocactus x hybridus
in our gardens? Visit our Meet the Plants page at
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: `Ōhi`a lehua
There may be no more widely recognized native Hawaiian tree than the beloved `ōhi`a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha). This handsome member of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) earned its species name because it assumes many forms, depending upon where it grows, and ranges from towering forest trees to dwarf-sized plants in Kaua`i’s Alaka`i Swamp.
On the island of Hawai`i where `ōhi`a lehua is the official island flower, the tree grows in abundance and is one of the first to emerge from newly solidified lava flows. Its deep, rich reddish brown wood is a highly sought after material in home construction and `ōhi`a flowers are a favorite of lei makers.
This important native tree, sacred to the Hawaiian deities Laka and Pele, and invaluable for watershed protection, can be commonly spotted with bright red blooms throughout Limahuli Garden, but stop to admire the rare orange-to-yellow blossoming `ōhi`a tree as you climb deeper into the garden.
Limahuli Garden has a small yellow flowering `ōhi`a lehua above the Plantation-Era Garden near the rest stop by the stream. Look for the tree behind the drinking water station. An orange-yellow flowering `ōhi`a lehua tree can also be seen from the top rest stop when looking toward the ocean from the point where the trail starts to go downhill.
Best seen: flowering vibrantly from mid-spring to early summer
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7621
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Leopard tree
In contrast to the Polynesian and native Hawaiian plants Kahanu Garden is known for, the leopard tree (Caesalpinia ferrea) is an exotic surprise. This large South American tree is easily recognized by its distinctive camouflage-like mottled bark. Patches of brown, tan, khaki, and white, make for an attractive ornamental landscaping tree.
This member of the bean family (Fabaceae), also called Brazilian ironwood, is known as pau (or pao) ferro in Portuguese, and is popular as a shade tree along streets and parks in the tropics. When in flower, clusters of bright yellow flowers are beautifully framed by a dense canopy of small deep green leaves.
The tree has been studied for its possible medicinal value and used for various treatments in Brazil. In addition, some guitars highly prized by musicians have a "pao ferro" fingerboard.
Kahanu Garden's leopard tree (there is only one) grows on the left-hand side of the cement strip driveway just after a cluster of loulu palms and a jak-fruit tree (on the right). Look for it when going from the garden's entry kiosk at the entry to the self-guided tour area.
Best seen: throughout the year (blooms may be prominent during spring and summer)
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=2047
The Kampong Featured Plant: Tropical lilac An uncommon and underutilized garden plant in southern Florida, tropical lilac (Cornutia grandifolia) derives its name from the profusion of small, lavender-to-violet colored flowers borne in long spikes at the ends of branches. While unrelated to true lilac, tropical lilac offers equally impressive floral displays in summer. Its broad, velvety leaves are pleasantly aromatic and reminiscent of tobacco, imbuing home and garden with a unique fragrance when crushed. Tropical lilac is a fast-growing evergreen tree under 20 feet tall maintained for shade or as a privacy hedge. Like other members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), its flowers are two-lipped, tubular, and attractive to butterflies. It grows under a wide range of light and soil conditions, and is desirable for its resistance to pests and diseases. Native to seasonally moist forests of Mexico and Central America, tropical lilac is used in local medicine, for treating asthma and skin afflictions. Two spectacular specimens of tropical lilac are growing at The Kampong, adjacent to the limestone boundary wall north of the historic David Fairchild Museum. Best seen: May to September
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.
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Night blooming cereus Night blooming cereus (Hylocereus undatus), a long, writhing cactus native to Mexico and Central America, grows well along the dry steep walls and slopes above Lāwa‘i Valley and in the Allerton Garden. As the name implies, large white flowers open at night and remain prominent until mid-morning when they fade and droop during the day. Blooming is sporadic during the summer, but if you are lucky you will see a profusion of flowers welcoming you to the Allerton Garden on the approach from the Southshore Visitors Center. Known as pānini o ka puna hou in Hawaiian and botanically named for the cactus’s undulating, wavy rib margins, night blooming cereus grows well as a terrestrial or epiphytic plant. In Hawai‘i, by the end of summer the cactus produces a curiously shaped pink globular “dragon fruit” which is cultivated around the world and popular for its sweet flesh. Night blooming cereus can be found growing on walls and hillsides above and within Allerton Garden. Look for it early in the morning when the flowers are at its best. Best seen: June through August Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11884
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Hau hele `ulaThe hau hele‘ula or koki`o (Kokia kauaiensis) is very large when compared to the similar-looking hibiscus. Found only on the west side of Kaua‘i in five valleys, this species is known to have fewer than 100 remaining individuals in six populations. The genus Kokia only has four species, each endemic to a single Hawaiian island. This species' survival is threatened by invasive non-native plants, habitat degradation, and damage by feral goats, deer, and rats which eat the seeds. The plant is federally listed as an endangered species. Currently NTBG preserves well over a hundred seeds in its seed storage facility. While the tree often lacks flowers, lucky visitors to Limahuli will be struck by the size and color of its blooms. There are six trees in the “Dave’s Forest Walk” section on the tour route. Look for very tall trees with broad green leaves and large reddish orange flowers. Best seen: spring and early summer Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11887
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Kalo manini pelu
Kalo manini 'pelu (Colocasia esculenta) is one of 300+ varieties of kalo (taro) cultivated by early Hawaiians. This "canoe plant" is spiritually and nutritionally one of the most important Polynesian introduced plants. According to Hawaiian legend, kalo was the firstborn son of W kea (sky father) and Papa (earth mother) and is considered the "elder brother" of the Hawaiian people.
Probably native to Southern Asia, kalo has been a staple food source around the world for thousands of years. In Hawai'i kalo is pounded into poi and used medicinally, but must be cooked thoroughly in order to break down the calcium oxalate crystals in the leaves, stem, and corm.
This particular variety of kalo has a variegated stem and shares the name "manini" with a reef fish, bananas, sugar cane, and sweet potato. The term "manini" describes the striped nature of these plants and fish, a trait they all share.
Kalo manini 'pelu can be found in Kahanu's Canoe Garden growing in a dryland m la (patch) on the approach to the Pi'ilanihale heiau. It is growing amongst a collection of some 40 varieties, so look carefully for the kalo with striped stems and a tag indicating its name.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on kalo in general? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=3155
The Kampong Featured Plant: Lignum vitae
What do the British police, San Francisco cable cars, and Dogfish Head Brewery have in common? Lignum vitae! This tree’s wood has been used to make truncheons, electrical insulators, and beer barrels, respectively. The wood is valued for its density and high resin content.
One of the heaviest of all timbers, lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale) is exceptionally durable. Coined in the 16th century when it was first discovered in the West Indies, the name lignum vitae means “wood of life,” in reference to its medicinal properties.
This small, slow-growing evergreen is native to the coastal woodlands of the West Indies, Venezuela, and Colombia. Lignum vitae now faces extinction in the world due to its extraction for its wood. The tree is celebrated for a profusion of showy light-to-deep-blue flower clusters that have been described as “ethereal luminosity.” Lignum vitae makes an unforgettable specimen tree for small spaces, planters, and xericscapes.
The Kampong is home to several handsome trees of lignum vitae, original introductions of David Fairchild. Collected prior to 1928, these impressive specimens can still be observed where they were first planted: a few feet north of the David Fairchild Museum and at the northeast corner of the terrace of the Fairchild-Sweeney House.
Best seen: March through May (sporadic June through August)
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Monkey pod One of the most popular canopy trees in Hawai‘i’s gardens and parks is the monkey pod (Samanea saman), a member of the legume family (Fabaceae). Because monkey pod trees grow quickly and can reach up to 80 feet with broad umbrella-like canopies, they are favored for their generous shade. Monkey pod trees have a rough gray-brown bark, but attractive golden brown wood which is fashioned into sturdy bowls, platters, furniture, and countertops. The tree’s rapid growth, size, and abundance make it a relatively inexpensive tropical hardwood. This native of the neotropics , like other Fabaceae trees, produces large seed pods which litter the ground in late winter and are fed to cattle. The sticky brown pods are often curved and resemble a monkey’s ear, an image reflected in one of the tree’s alternate names (Pithecellobium) which means “ape lobe.” After defoliating in late winter, monkey pod trees are bare for several weeks in spring before producing new leaves and hundreds of clustered pink powder puff-like flowers. To find monkey pods in the Allerton Garden, just look up from almost anywhere! Best seen: late spring/early summer Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10174
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Lobelia niihauensis (no common name) Lobelia niihauensis is a member of Campanulaceae and was formerly found on Ni‘ihau island, but is today known to grow in the wild only on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. Designated an endangered species, it is the subject of a recovery plan that would include maintenance of 5-10 populations of 100 individuals on each Hawaiian island. This herbaceous species has stems which can sprawl over the ground or curve upright and produce hundreds of flowers at a time. The plant’s distinctive magenta blossoms are partly fused but spread open and roll back at the tips. The long floral tubes suggest the flowers may be pollinated by native birds like honeycreepers and honeyeaters which have down-curved beaks well-suited for obtaining nectar. Currently this beautiful, rare native Hawaiian plant can be seen growing in Limahuli Garden at the top of the self-guided walking course in a raised lava rock planting bed that looks out to Makana mountain and the sea. Best seen: mid-to-late spring Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7159
Kahanu Garden Featured Plant: Kō honua‘ula or kō niho puhi Kō honua‘ula (synonymous with kō niho puhi) (Saccharum officinarum) is a distinctive sugar cane with a dark purple stem and purple leaves. Kō means “sugar cane” and “honua‘ula” literally means “red earth.” Often referred to as the “Hawaiian sugar cane,” it is frequently mistaken to be the only Hawaiian variety of cane when, in fact, there were once over 100 Hawaiian varieties. The alternate name kō niho puhi means “eel’s tooth” sugar cane owing to the sharp points of the auxiliary buds. Be careful when feeling the buds as they are known to “bite!” This is one of the many Hawaiian sugar cane varieties that can be found in Kahanu’s canoe garden near the beginning of the self-guided tour. 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=10117
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
Allerton Garden Featured Plant: Angel’s trumpet Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia x candida) is an attractive medium-size tree (up to 20 feet tall) which bears fantastic trumpet-shaped flowers that range from orange to yellow, pink, and white. The prominent eye-catching blossoms can measure over 12 inches long and hang like colored floral pendulums. These may be pollinated by hummingbirds, but the flower’s light color also makes them easy for bats to find at night. Like other members of the Solanaceae family, angel’s trumpet contains toxic alkaloids which can cause blurred vision, dizziness, hallucinations and, in larger doses, death. Angel’s trumpet has been used medicinally by indigenous tribal shaman in the Andes regions where the plant is native. Called nānāhonua (literally “earth-gazing”) in Hawaiian, angel’s trumpet blooms year-round in Hawai‘i with flowers lasting for several days before fading; within a few weeks they bloom again. Blossoms are most fragrant toward dusk and during the evening when their sweet scent belies their deadly poison. Enjoy these flowers (carefully!) in the Allerton Garden near the cutting garden and other areas. 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=11850
The Kampong Featured Plant: Brazilian rose Brazilian rose (Cochlospermum vitifolium), also known as the buttercup tree, is a perfect choice for The Kampong and other south Florida gardens because it flourishes in our drought-prone, rocky soils. Its conspicuous, bowl-like yellow flowers (up to 5 inches across and a favorite among honey bees!) appear on leafless trees during the winter and early spring months. This spectacle is soon followed by the emergence of deep green foliage that offers shade for the long summer months ahead. Native to Mexico and Central and South America, Brazilian rose has a number of economic uses, ranging from filling for pillows (from the silky wool produced in its seed pods), to cordage and a beer-like drink made from its bark. This species can be grown as a small to medium-sized specimen tree, or maintained in a large planter. Because it is easily propagated from large stem cuttings, it is frequently used as a living fence. The single specimen growing at The Kampong was introduced by Larry Schokman in 1998 from a cutting obtained locally. This splendid tree can be viewed at its location north of the garden road opposite the nursery. Best seen: February through April Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=3053