Amaryllidaceae Family

The Amaryllidaceae are a family of herbaceous that has over 1,100 species, but the Crinum, or spider lilies, are especially favored in this garden. Efforts are underway to preserve many of the unusual and rare plants. This collection is one of the largest in the world.

“Aunty Coco’s” Lei Garden

The lei garden consists of plants that produce flowers, seeds, and leaves that include color, fragrance, lasting quality, and rarity for lei making. Today, in Hawai'i, the lei is a symbol of friendship, love, and trust. It is offered as a gift of honor to friends and visitors. The connection to its origins goes back to Southern Asia, after many hundreds of years of migrating form island to island eastward across the vast Pacific Ocean, bringing with them the arts and traditions of the lei, which generations before them had developed on the continent of their origin. The materials of lei making were substituted, the reasons for and the rituals of the lei suffered changes also as people moved from place to place. A greater and richer variety of leis was made in Hawai'i at this time than in any other Polynesian group. Most plants in this garden bloom profusely in March and September. The lei garden is dedicated to our beloved Waimea Valley Ohana member and Kupuna, Aunty Coco Leong, who passed away in September of 2015. Her deep passion to teach and educate Hawaiian culture through music and language will never be forgotten.


Bamboos are actually giant members of the grass family, Poaceae. At least 1500 species can be found widely distributed in the topics and warm temperate areas of the world. Bamboos are the fastest-growing woody plants with some towering over 60 feet high. Many selections are highly prized for their variegations, and unusual stem shapes. Next to palms man uses the bamboos more than any other plant family. They are unsurpassed for building construction and scaffolding. Artisans use the fine-grained wood to create farm tools, musical instruments, brushes, baskets and limitless handicrafts. Bamboo is the sole food source for the Giant Panda of China and in many oriental dishes the tender bamboo shoot is indispensable.


The Begoniaceae family of perennial herbs and shrubs is found in every tropical region of the world. Begoniascan are usually recognized by their asymmetrical leaves and succulent jointed stems. Their tiny seeds account for their wide dispersal, even to places as remote as Hawai'i. The endemic genus Hillebrandia is endemic to the islands.


The Wiliwili tree can grow up to 30 feet high and its bright red seeds are used in lei-making. The lightweight wood of the Wiliwili was used by early Hawaiians to make long boards (alaia), short boards (olo), fishnet floats, and is still used for outrigger canoes. The tree originates from the tropics, and warm temperate areas like the Himalayas and Argentina. There are over 114 species and varieties, widely distributed throughout the world. Waimea had one of the world’s best collections of these genus until a microscopic wasp found its way to Hawai'i in 2004. In Hawai'i, the popular Wiliwili tree, E. sandwicensis, had been decimated. Even old trees growing in the Valley from long before the botanical garden were established, are on their last legs. The Erythrina Gall Wasp lays its eggs on newly emerging leaf and flower buds, which then swell to grotesque shapes. In December of 2008, another predator wasp was released as a bio-control. There is now a dynamic balance between these two alien wasps in Hawai'i has helped with the survival of the Wiliwili trees.

Ferns and Begonias

Ferns are a very primitive group of flowerless, spore-bearing plants divided into about 20 families and 300 genera. The nearly 10,000 species we know of are survivors among the millions that evolved and went extinct long before flowering plants appeared on Earth. Coal deposits are the carbonized remains of the vast fern forests of the Devonian era. Take a look at our Native Fern collection near the Pikake Pavilion.

Fruit, Nut, and Spice

While we expect tropical fruit to grow on trees, there are a large number, which come from shrubs and even herbs. Depending on what time of the year you visit Waimea Valley there will be well-known fruits like mango, guava, and papaya, along with custard apple and rukam, which are equally as tasty but not as well known. The jackfruit, which grows quite large and can weigh up to 40 pounds. And, a delicious fruit called durian, which has an obnoxious smell. There are also a few subtropical nut and spice trees that grow here, such as the macadamia nut and the Brazilian chestnut trees.

Gingers and Heliconia

There are nearly 1300 species of ginger widely scattered through the tropics, with the heaviest concentration found in Indo-Malyasia region. Some are grown for their ornamental foliage and flowers while others yield spices, dyes, perfumes, fiber and medicine. Most of the over 100 species of Heliconia come from Central and South America with a few found in some island of the South Pacific. These close relatives to bananas grow up to 20 feet tall, and they are easily distinguished by their long leaf stems from which the colorful bracts rise or hang. Inside each bract, the true flowers are usually tine and inconspicuous.

Hibiscus Hybrids

The Hibiscus Hybrid garden of winding paths can also be called the “Early History of Hibiscus Hybridization”. Sub-gardens along the trail feature the early bloodlines – from Australia, the Mascarene Islands, and Fiji which were crossed with Hawaiian hibiscus to produce new hybrids. "Nasilai Pink‟ is the name given to a cultivated variety of Hibiscus found in Fiji. It may be closest to a legendary species, Hibiscus storckii, which has probably gone extinct. Waimea sent a horticultural expedition to Fiji in 1984 looking for this lost plant. Most Fijian hibiscus have an “eye” where the colors in each petal are dark towards the center of the flower.

Malvaceae Family Hibiscus Species

The ornamental hibiscus hybrids are the best known, but there is great diversity and beauty in these wild hibiscus species and their relatives, which include cotton and okra. Of all the different hibiscus species in the world, only the two white flowered endemics (Koki'o ke'oke'o) found in Hawai'i have a fragrance. There are about 300 species from tropical and sub-tropical areas.