Hawaiian Ethnobotany

In ancient Hawai'i, plants played an important part in all aspects of life. Plants were not only a food source, but were used in medicines, building, clothing, weapons, and as food containers. The Kāhuna Nui (High Priest) were skilled in utilizing the plants around them for medicines and religious ceremonies. The ethnobotany garden highlights many of the plants utilized by ancient Hawaiians and has individual markers telling the specific uses. The ti plant was used to reduce fevers, while the ginger root was mashed and mixed with salt water for a purification mixture. Kō (sugar cane) juice helped make medicines more palatable. Early Hawaiians used koa wood for building canoes and surfboards, and the wauke for pounding into tapa cloth. Ahuhu leaves were crushed and put in tide pools where it made fish an easy prey by immobilizing them. As you enter this collection from the upper road you'll see an 'ulu (breadfruit) tree, and beyond it are tall, flowering kō (sugar cane) plants surrounding three fenced kalo (taro) plantings. Hawaiian varieties of mai'a (banana) are planted near the kalo beds, and beyond them are two 'ohi'a 'ai (mountain apple) trees from the South Pacific, which fruit twice a year. The ground covers under the sugar cane are varieties of 'uala (sweet potato). These can be recognized by their flowers which resemble miniature morning glories which are closely related.

Hawaiian Flora

The Hawaiian Flora garden is part of Waimea Valley's effort to provide protective cultivation for our rarest native plants, studying propagation techniques and keeping accurate records, all in hope of restoring self-sustaining plant communities for future generations to enjoy. The rich flora of Hawai'i is descended from a small number of pioneering ancestors, all of which arrived by wind, wave, or wing. Most evolved into new species so that today over 90% of our Hawaiian plants are found nowhere else, the highest rate of endemism in the world. Although the early Polynesians cleared land for cultivation, for the most part they co-existed with nature and these important habitats. It was not until the arrival of the Europeans that the delicate balance of nature was disturbed. The process of clearing land for plantations and the introduction of goats, cattle and deer all took their toll on Hawai'i’s plant life. There are three large gardens in the Valley devoted solely to Hawaiian plants. The largest and oldest, Hawaiian A, surrounds Pond 2, which can be found past the ticket booth to the first bridge. About a third of the way up the Valley, above the upper road, is Hawaiian B which gets morning light, but is shaded by the steep Valley wall by mid-afternoon. The newest, Hawaiian C, is in full sun and has been planted in the Makai end of the Erythrina Collection behind the oracle towers of the Lono Heiau ( a Hawaiian temple whose rock work has been carbon-dated to the 1400’s) visible from the main parking lot.

Hawaiian Hibiscus

The genus hibiscus adds a great variety of color to the Hawaiian flora. Surprisingly, the bright red Hibiscus kokio flowers are descended from the same pioneer ancestor that evolved to become our two white-flowered species: H. waimeae from Kaua'i named for Kaua'i’s Waimea Canyon and H. arnottianus found on O'ahu. These two native whites, Koki'o ke'oke'o, are the only hibiscus in the world that give off a faint perfume at dawn and dusk. In the late 1980’s the bright yellow-flowered endemic Hibiscus brackenridgei, Ma'o hau hele, became the state flower. This endangered species survives in the wild in very few places. Fires in 2007 impacted the already limited range of the O'ahu subspecies Mokuleianus. Lana'i’s last few plants are not doing well, but several collections are growing well here in the Valley. The Hawaiian Hibiscus collection at Waimea Valley is large. The four sections are separated by roads and paths starting at Hale 'Iwi and extend down to the main road makai (toward the sea) of the banyan tree.

Native Ferns

Our native fern garden, established recently is located next to the Pikake Pavilion. One sixth of Hawai`i's native flora is in the pteridophytes. The well-known endemic tree fern, hapu'u (Cibotium chamissoi), is commonly found in mesic to wet forests of O'ahu. Other species of hapu'u dictate at higher elevations. We are encouraging Hawai'i residents to plant the endemic tree fern in lieu of the invasive Australian tree fern that is used commonly for landscaping. In the wild, the hapu'u is threatened by feral pigs that eat the new growth, some plants were cut down for their fibrous trunk used for decoration, or to mount epiphytic plants on them, such as orchids. Ferns are a crucial part of the Hawaiian culture. In lei making, fronds are used abundantly. It is mentioned commonly in song and chant as well.