The acanthaceae garden is one of the most colorful collections of its kind in Hawai'i. There are many colorful herbs, shrubs, and vines in this plant family. Most of the 2,500 species are found in the tropics. The four main areas of distribution are Africa, Indonesia, Brazil and South America. Considering the immense distribution throughout the world it is curious that there are no native Hawaiian species. All the plants found in this garden are from other tropical spots throughout the world. Two outstanding genera in this collection are Schaueria and Aphelandra. Another plant, the squirrel tail, is popular in Hawai‘i for making leis.


These herbaceous (non-woody) plants are found in tropical rainforests around the world. With nearly 2,000 species divided into 115 genera the aroids are one of the largest plant families with an astounding variety of form. They often display striking foliage and unusual flower structures. Many are popular as houseplants for their ability to thrive in shady areas. Colocasia, a ground-dwelling herbs have starchy roots like the edible kalo (taro), a staple for 400 million people of the tropics. Many, like the Philodendron, are climbing vines with aerial roots for support in addition to their normal ground roots for nutrition. Some climbing aroids have leaves which change in size and shape when they start to climb up a tree. The leaves of the pocket plant, Xanthosoma, act as reservoirs. The monstera, which has a pineapple flavored fruit, has holes in its leaves. Anthuriums are epiphytic aroids that do not have ground roots. Found on branches or in leaf litter in the wild their nourishment comes from air. There are two separate gardens of aroids (plants in the Araceae family). One is across from the Hawaiian plant collection on your way to the first bridge. The second is reached by descending the first flight of stairs on your left across Kauhale on the Central and South American Trail by Kamananui Stream.

Arecaceae (Palmae)

The palm family is one of the oldest groups of flowering plants. Fossil records show that they dominated the mid-cretaceous forests 80 million years ago. Today nearly 2650 species can be found in the tropics and warm temperate regions. They have adapted to widely varying habitats from seashores to mountaintops and from deserts to steamy jungles. The fruit and other vegetative parts provide edible oils, starches, and sugars. As well as medicines, waxes, fibers, and thatching material. Examples of economically important produces are coconuts, dates, Carnauba wax and rattan. Both the American and African oil palms are on display here. Only one genus of palms existed in Hawai‘i before the arrival of man. The loulu or pritchardia palms diversified into many species, each adapted to a specific region on one or more of the islands. The palms in this garden are divided into 15 sections according to different evolutionary characteristics. Our native loulu palms are planted on separated beds in the Palm Meadow, each shaped like the Hawaiian island where that loulu is native.


Some of the most brilliantly colored flowers in the plant kingdom can be found in this family of nearly 750 species. Most evolved in tropical South America, and in a surprisingly wide variety of forms, from trees and shrubs to herbs and woody vines. The showy asymmetrical flowers are typified by the African tulip tree, the Jacaranda, J. mimosifolis, and the many species of Tabebuia. The fruit, usually not palatable to people, sometimes take unusual shapes that give the calabash tree, the sausage tree, and the candle tree their common names. Although some species yield durable hardwood most are cultivated as ornamentals for landscaping.


While there are over 1,400 species known it is often called the pineapple family after the best-known member of the family. Most of these plants are from the West Indies and tropical America, except for Pitcairnia, which is native to West Africa. The plants range in size from less than one inch, like Tillandsia, to huge plants with flower spikes over 10 feet high, like Puya. In addition, these plants can grow not only at sea level but also up to elevations over 1,400 feet. Many plants like the pineapple are terrestrial, which grow in the ground. However, others are epiphytes, which grow on tree branches and even on the stems of desert cacti.


Thirty years ago most plants in this garden were considered part of the then-giant Lily Family. Plants are put into different families according to their floral structure, but so many other factors are involved today: DNA, pollen and seed morphology as well as the fact that botanists can compare a wider range of plants than ever before. Nature rarely conforms to man’s categories. There are always exceptions, and when too many exceptions pile up, it’s time to reconsider what defines certain plant families. MANY OF THE PLANTS IN THIS GARDEN ARE DROUGHT-TOLERANT ORNAMENTALS, RECENTLY MOVED TO THIS PLANT FAMILY. Ti plants, Dracaena and Sansevieria all used to be in the Agave family and were considered part of the Lily Family before that. In Hawaii the aloe and ti plant are probably the best-known planted in this garden. The thick, bitter substance in the aloe’s leaves soothes sunburns and is a home remedy for many skin problems. The ti plant served a myriad of purposes in the lives of the early Hawaiians –thatching, food wrappers, footwear, even an alcoholic beverage, ‘okolehau, was brewed from its roots.


The economically valuable banana originated in the Old World tropics; Musa is the main genus in the family and has over 40 species and some 300 clonal varieties. Used for food and fiber, the banana is widely cultivated throughout the warmer parts of the world. Less sweet varieties intended for cooking are called plantains. A banana plant cannot be called a tree, as it has no wood. It flowers only once and then dies. Though a few species produce viable seeds, most are cultivated by replanting the new keikis (small plant) that form at the base of the parent plant. Bananas were first brought to Hawai'i from the South Pacific by migrating Polynesians. Some of the cultivars bred by generations of Hawaiian farmers can be seen in the Hawaiian Ethnobotany Collection.


Two of the most easily recognized members of this pantropical family are piper woody climbers on shrubs including some trees, and peperomia, low herbs that are popular as houseplants. All of these plants have jointed stems and inconspicuous flowers born on spikes. The condiment, pepper, comes from one of the 2,000 or more species of piper. The fruit of Piper nigrum can be ground whole to make black pepper or the outer coating can be removed first to yield white pepper. A close relative is Piper methysticum, called 'awa in Hawai'i where over 15 varieties were once cultivated, or kava in other parts of the Pacific where its traditional use remains a central part of many cultures. A mixture of the pounded roots and water is consumed ritually, medicinally, or as a mild intoxicant. Of the 1,000 or more species of peperomia some are found only in Hawai'i. Some were used in medicine and in the manufacture of a gray dye for staining tapa cloth. Ornamentals like the jade plant and the watermelon peperomia are widely used as potted plants. These prefer cool, moist conditions for optimal growth.


The beautiful bird of paradise flower from southern Africa is the most familiar member of this family. Also included are the South American Phenakospermum which can grow to a height of 35 feet and the distinctively fan-shaped Ravenala commonly known as Travellers Tree from Madagascar. Thirsty travelers could tap water from closed cavities that help support its leaf blades.