The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

July 8, 2019 • 9:45 am

I have landed in Chicago!

All of these photos save the last were taken on the grounds of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden north of Hilo. In a few cases I knew (or learned) what the plants were, and the others I’ll leave to readers to identify. I’ll number the photos, though, to help you with your IDs.

The garden is in a seaside valley that was previously used as a farm, producing mainly sugar cane. As Wikipedia notes:

The garden is located in a scenic valley opening out to Onomea Bay, and features streams, waterfalls and a boardwalk along the ocean. It was created by Dan J. Lutkenhouse, who purchased the property in 1977 and began to develop it as a botanical garden. It opened to the public in 1984, and was donated by the Lutkenhouses to a nonprofit trust in 1995.

Today the garden contains over 2,000 plant species, representing more than 125 families and 750 genera, with good collections of palms (nearly 200 species), heliconias (more than 80 species), and bromeliads (more than 80 species). Some of the garden’s mango and coconut palm trees are over 100 years old.

It’s well worth a visit if you are a plant lover, though admission is not cheap.

This is beehive ginger Zingiber spectabile, with the source of its name obvious.

Plant #1:

Banana flower with fetal bananas:

Plant #2 (some kind of Heliconius, I think):

Plant #3:

Plant #4:

Plant #5, clearly an orchid:

Plant #6 (another Heliconius?):

Plant #7:

Leaf close-ups. Plant #8:

Plant #9:

Plant #10:

The bizarre white bat flower (Tacca integrifolia) from tropical parts of Southeast Asia. It’s really an amazing plant, and there’s a relative that’s all purple, T. chantrieri.

The cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis), native to Central and South America. The flowers are lovely, and the fruits just weird. They are edible to humans, but are said to have an unpleasant odor. They’re eating by livestock.

A different cannonball tree with more flowers:

In the small garden museum, there’s a duck carved by one of the Japanese inhabitants who worked in the valley before it was made into a garden:

And the nearby Akaka Falls, 442 feet (135 meters) high, nestled in a lovely little valley. Read at the link about the endemic fish that climbs the falls:


34 thoughts on “The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

  1. Plant #5 is a Phalaenopsis orchid; it’s impossible to tell from the photo which particular Phalaenopsis it is, however.

      1. Yes; only three orchids are actually native to Hawaii. I agree that it’s most likely a hybrid, based on the size of the flower. That said, orchid growers and hobbyists have introduced species Phalaenopses to the islands, as well as hybrids.

      1. My picture book of Heliconia (Berry and Kress, Heliconia: An Identification Guide) puts #2 near Heliconia champneiana, native to northern Central America. Plant #6 is “confirmed” as H. mariae, also from Central America. H. mariae was described by Darwin’s friend J.D. Hooker. #3 seems to be another Heliconia species; bad camera angle. #7 may be a Costus sp. (Zingiberaceae) or something close; did the stem grow in a spiral?

        1. Definitely Monstera, a popular houseplant, and garden plant in frost free areas.
          After flowering (a kind of cone) they (often) appear to die, but grow back over a few years.

  2. Very nice photos. My Botany was a long time ago and I am lucky to name a few trees. The reference to sugar cane is the history of Hawaii on all the Island. C&H sugar is still in business on the West Coast but the sugar is no longer from Hawaii. There were also railroads on all the Islands, built to haul the cane.

  3. Plant #10 looks like a monstera (Monstera deliciosa). Edible fruit, but you have to be patient. I’ve not tried one.

    Cannonball trees are either male or female, so the first is a female, the second male.

  4. #8 and #9 are leaves of plants in the family Marantaceae, which are often known as “Prayer plants” because the leaves fold upward at night.

    1. I can imagine how this trait evolved. Long ago the falls were small, just rapids. Over time erosion enlarged the drop, giving our Goby time to become an acrobat.

      1. And gobies often live in tidal zones where a kind of ‘bellysucker’ is not useless either. They all have them, if I’m not mistaken. So the ‘bellysuckers’ from fused pelvic fins themselves might even be older than the acrobatics.

        1. The Hawaiians also have sucker mouths, the mechanics of the climb are kinds clear now. Only fully clear when we actually see them climbing, or a video thereof, of course.

          1. I have rock-climbing catfish in my neighborhood in Ecuador, and they climb using their sucker mouth and their pectoral fins (no belly sucker). As often happens, both fish groups seem to have re-purposed organs that originally evolved for something else entirely.

    2. Amazing fish! I never knew!

      Also, “data deficient” in the protection status. First time I ever saw that.

  5. Stunning pictures, wonderful plants, thanks so much! I am pretty incompetent at identifying even many of our native UK species, so I stand in awe of those who know exactly what this lot are.

    I know you sometimes feel that not enough people appreciate some of your posts. Well, some – maybe most – of us read and appreciate them all, but don’t feel motivated, or qualified, to comment. Just keep them coming, please!

  6. Plant #4 looks a lot like pagoda flower, Clerodendrum paniculatum, a mint (Lamiaceae) native to southern and southeast Asia. It’s a fairly common yard plant here in the northern peninsula of Florida, and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

  7. Apropos mysterious and exotic plants in botanic gardens, there’s much excitement here in Cambridge, where the University’s Botanic Garden has an agave plant (most likely Agave heteracantha) that is about to flower after 57 years. The stem of the flower shoot looks exactly like a ten-foot asparagus spear, a reminder that agaves belong to the family Asparagaceae.

    1. The identification to the species is, apparently, dependent on examining the flowers. A challenge for a plant which only flowers occasionally.

  8. Botanical gardens are immensely relaxing. I felt relaxed just gawking at the photos. Thanks for these natural beauties. Also thanks to the readers for their added descriptions and names.

  9. These tropical flowers are amazing. I love beauty and if I could get to this botanical garden I think I might lose my mind. Thank you for sharing these wonderful images. I can almost smell the flowers.

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