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(2022 - Winter/Spring Issue)


Ancestral teachings and modern conservation unite on the Garden Island

The Scene

On the north shore of Kauai where the sharp emerald fins of the Na Pali Coast slice into the Pacific rests the Limahuli Garden and Preserve. This botanical collection of rare endemic and other flora blooms on 6.9 hectares of foliage-fringed Makana Mountain on Hawaii’s oldest island. Lima huli means “turned hand” in Hawaiian and it’s here that dedicated botanists and biologists turn their hands to protecting and propagating the greenery of Kauai. Thanks to them, native species like the beautiful koki’o ke’oke’o, a white hibiscus, continue to grow in this pu’uhonua, “a place of refuge.”

The Hits

In this teaching garden, warm trade winds rustle a thousand shades of green. Embark on an easy walking trail that traces the island’s plant evolution, and visit archaeological sites and a recreated hale, which is a traditional Hawaiian home.

The Backstory

Seventeen centuries ago, Polynesians navigated over 4,000 kilometres eastward to Kauai. They brought two dozen “canoe plants” including bananas, sugar cane, sweet potato, turmeric and Hawaii’s most revered plant, taro. The Limahuli Valley is an original ahupua’a, a pie-shaped division of land that begins at the tip of the mountain and fans out to the sea. Some indigenous plants that grow here are not found anywhere else on earth. There’s the loulu, a palm with its fan-shaped leaves that only thrives in the Limahuli Valley. Above it, flowery fingers of the endangered papala tree reach for the sunlight.

The Takeaway

In earlier centuries agricultural development once impacted this patch of plant paradise but there’s now a concerted conservation effort at this preserve. Thankfully today, Hawaiian docents steeped in the knowledge of indigenous plants share their insights with visitors as field scientists conduct important research.

The good news is every year rare plants are saved from extinction. New technologies like drones scour inaccessible mountaintops for outliers.

Ben Nyberg, Drone Specialist and Geographic Information System Coordinator for the National Tropical Botanical Garden, used to rappel down steep mountainsides in search of elusive plants. Now he can spot them from the air. “While the extinction crisis is real,” he says, “we are developing powerful new tools to tip the scale, to explore the unexplored, and to save the rarest of the rare.”

Take the path to Kealakohola—The Whale Trail lookout between November and May to see migrating humpback mothers and calves in the bay.

Travel Planner

Advance booking of self-guided and docent-led tours is required. See ntbg.org/gardens/limahuli

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