Friday, February 5, 2010

Hawaii's National Tropical Botanical Garden


is located on peaceful Kauai, just a few miles west of Po'ipu on the island's leeward side.  As stated on their website,, "The importance of plants to life on earth is immeasurable. We depend upon them for the air we breathe, for the food we eat, for shelter, and for medicine.

Ninety percent of all plant and animal species on our planet exist in the tropics -- that warm moist belt that circles the earth. And it is in these regions where the extinction rate is the highest. Species are disappearing faster than anyone knows. They cannot be replaced.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden is dedicated to preserving tropical plant diversity and stemming this tide of extinction - through plant exploration, propagation, habitat restoration, scientific research, and education. NTBG's gardens and preserves are safe havens for at-risk species that otherwise might disappear forever."
This kind of work is so important, and their collections so impressive.  I was lucky enough to make a visit last month (the reason for no January post), and spent most of my time in the tropical oasis of McBryde Garden, blowing my mind, geeking out on their amazing specimens.  
As far as learning new plants goes, my time there was limited but I was able to learn a few, as well as see many I'd known only as Northwest houseplants, growing naturally more beautiful in their preferred habitat.  Ti leaf, gingers, turmeric, Indian Mulberry, Taro, Elephant Ears, Banana, Coconut Palms, Candlenut, Cacao, and sweet potato are plants all growing beautifully today; February 5th, another sunny day on the south side of Kauai. 
Rarities and immediate favorites were Hibiscus waimeae (koki'o ke'oke'o); native to Kauai, and having fragrant white flowers unlike most other hibiscus.  Also, the Spindle Palm (Hyophorbe verschaffeltii) which was flowering in January, created a seductive attraction for the local honey bees.  Other highlights were the vanilla orchid, of which there are 110 species native to tropical regions from North America to Asia.  Vanilla planifolia is the species commercially grown to produce vanilla flavoring.  
Also worthy of mention, the curious Kupang tree (Parkia timoriana), also called Tree Bean. According to, the kupang flowers are dense, hanging from leaf axils like old-fashioned electric bulbs, on long cable-like stalks. The flowers are white and yellow, about 1 cm long. The pods are about 3.5 cm wide, rather thick, pendulous, and black and shinning when mature, and contain from 15-20 seeds. The pods are edible, and are considered a delicacy in Manipur. Their pulp is golden yellow, with a sweetish taste and an odor like that of violets. The roasted seeds are used in certain parts of Africa to make an infusion like coffee, for which reason they have been called soudan Coffee.   
Favorites both known and unknown are pictured here.

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