August 2014 Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Newsletter

August 2014 Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Newsletter

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Staff Update

At the end of June, the staff of HTBG gathered together to bid a fond farewell to Mr. Michael DeMey, who after twenty years as our Orchid Specialist has decided to retire to spend more time with his beautiful wife Mary Anne.

Michael has not only been instrumental in the development and maintenance of our Orchid collection and display, but has personally trained each of our shuttle drivers to do our cruise ship excursions.  He has also had a hand in almost every project we have done over the years.  We will miss him greatly and wish him well in the next chapter of his life.

The good news is that we have already have our new Orchid Specialist!  For the past two months, Gardener Ryan Atiz has been training alongside Michael, learning everything he knows.    Congratulations to Ryan, we know that you will continue to keep our orchid display as beautiful as Michael did for the delight of all who visit.

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In Memory of Dr. Yoneo Sagawa

The Garden lost a longtime Board member and dear friend, Dr. Yoneo Sagawa, on December 10, 2013.  He passed unexpectedly in his sleep at home.  He was 87 years old.

Yoneo was from Hawaii Island, born in Olaa on Oct. 11, 1926.
He received a B.A. in Zoology and M.S in Botany from Washington University, St. Louis and a Ph.D. in Cytogenetics from the University of Connecticut.

In 1964, he became a Professor of Horticulture at the University of Hawaii, Manoa until he retired in 2009.  He was well known in horticulture and the orchid world in particular.  He penned many articles for scientific journals and was a sought after consultant for orchid propagation all over the world.

With HTBG he was a trusted advisor who traveled from Honolulu to Hilo for every Board Meeting and he provided the seed money for the establishment of the Garden’s Fruit Tree Orchard.

Soft-spoken but always giving of his time and knowledge, Dr Sagawa was a tremedous asset to HTBG and many others in the world of Horticulture.  He will be missed.

A personal note from Pauline Lutkenhouse:

“Best Friends Dr. Yoneo Sagawa and Dan Lutkenhouse enjoyed a special friendship lasting 30 years.  Yoneo was a true, respectful, giving and cherished friend, and Dan loved him

Each time Yoneo was chosen to bestow his knowledge in awarding a PHD to a young person from another country, he invited the youngster to live in his home; another example of this compassionate human being.

It was our privilege to share Yoneo’s gift of friendship.”

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Garden Collections Updates – Phenakospermum guyannense and Pelagodoxa henryana

Back in 1990, Garden Founder Dan Lutkenhouse planted three specimens of Phenakospermum guyannense, the South American Travelers Tree, here in Onomea Valley.

Phenakospermum guyannense

Phenakospermum guyannense

Also called “The Big Palulu” or  “Patuju Gigante”, the plant is a monotypic genus native to Northern South America.  It used to be in the Musaceae (Banana) Family but is now more accurately placed in the Sterlitziaceae (Bird-of-Paradise) Family.

While common in its native environs, the plant is not often seen in cultivation. Phenakospermum is clumping or slightly running and resembles a giant upright Heliconia sometimes 30 to 40 ft tall.   Its banana-like leaves, among the largest in the world, have been used as roofing material by the Amazonian people.

This past Autumn marked the first time that the plant has revealed its truly remarkable inflorescence at HTBG.  Large stalks emerged conspicuously above the leaves
reaching a height of twelve feet. Boat-shaped floral bracts, very similar to the bracts of the related Bird-of-Paradise, appeared distichously (on opposite sides), 5 or 6 on each side, along the stalks.

The real flowers emerge from the bracts just before dark and are receptive for just one night, but the  inflorescence can produce flowers for as long as two months. If the flowers are pollinated it will produce seeds that look like Halloween Candy similar to Bird of Paradise seeds; black with orange hair on them.  The seeds are not considered safe for human consumption.

When the flowering is done and seed set, the individual trunk will die off, but the clump will live on with several trunks still actively growing.

Another long awaited infloresecence we have recently seen  comes from a rare and very special palm, Pelagodoxa henryana.

Pelagodoxa bearing its fruit

Pelagodoxa bearing its fruit

This palm from Vanuatu, Marquesas and Fiji Islands is extinct in the wild, existing now only in ex situ collections, and private collections.  It is a very attractive palm with large, undivided, pinnately ribbed leaves as long as 10 feet and as wide as 3 feet.  It reaches a height of about 35 feet.

This year marks the first time the palm has set seed at HTBG.  The round fruit has a cork-like warty skin that is tan colored at maturity. We plan to germinate the seeds and plant them to increase our valuable population of these rare and endangered palms.

Heliconia Society Conservation Center

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden has been approved as an offical Conservation Center for Zingerberales by the Board of Heliconia Society International.  The Zingerberales  include Cannaceae, Costaceae, Heliconiaceae, Lowiaceae, Marantaceae, Musaceae, Strelitziaceae, and Zingiberaceae.  Many thanks to David Lorence and David Skinner of HSI for making this happen.

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David Tan named as Executive Director for Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

David Tan and Pauline Lutkenhouse

David Tan and Pauline Lutkenhouse

President Pauline Lutkenhouse and the Board of Directors of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden have unanimously selected David Tan to serve as the Garden’s Executive Director, effective June 4, 2013.

David has a degree in Mass Communications from Emerson College in Boston, Ma.

Before joining HTBG in 2004, David had been in Web development with Wired News in San Francisco.

David began his career with HTBG briefly as a Shuttle Driver and Gift Shop Receptionist before taking on the Garden’s advertising, internet presence and public relations duties as well as managing the Garden’s business with the Cruise Lines.  David has also developed the Garden’s Plant Database and made it available online for the education of the general public.

David has been instrumental in helping expand the reach of the Garden and is grateful for the opportunity to do more as Director.

“This is truly a dream come true” says David.  “From my very first day here, I fell in love with this special place called Onomea.  Today I feel so blessed to lead an organization whose mission is the preservation of Onomea Valley and the education of our guests and school groups as to the beauty and importance of tropical plants. Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse found the valley as an overgrown jungle and dumping ground and created a self-sustaining Nature Preserve and Garden enjoyed by 100,000 visitors each year.  I hope that I too, in my own way, can contribute to making this gem shine even brighter.”

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Garden Improvements

Although we lost the Garden’s Visionary Founder,  Dan Lutkenhouse in 2007, his work ethic and high standards continue to be upheld.  Led by Co-founder and wife Pauline Lutkenhouse, efforts to maintain and improve all facets of the Garden continue apace.

The Boardwalk at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

The Boardwalk at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden


The first and most pressing task on our list was to upgrade one of the Garden’s defining features, the spectacular 500-foot long Boardwalk Entry.  The Garden’s Boardwalk provides each visitor with a memorable and sensational introduction to Onomea Valley. Following the natural contours of Kahali’i Stream, the boardwalk meanders downward into Onomea Valley, revealing its botanical wonders to visitors a little at a time until at last the end is reached. All along the descent visitors are regaled with a symphony of color and shape.  Brilliant flowers from Tropical Rhododendrons, Gingers, and Heleconia compete with rare palms, towering bamboos and exotic ferns for the visitor’s attention.
Unfortunately, due to the intense forces of erosion present in Onomea Valley, keeping the boardwalk presentable and safe had been a continuous and costly process.  The wind, rain, brilliant Hawaiian sun, and the heavy foot traffic required us to replace boards on a regular basis. Thus, early this year an exhaustive search for a better more sustainable solution was begun.  Fortunately we were able to find American Plastic Lumber.  Their plastic boards are extremely durable and are not porous so they will not absorb stains or water. This makes them able to resist rotting, cracking, splitting or warping from the constant rainfall or discoloration from heavy traffic and plant material.  Plastic lumber is less slippery wet than dry. The material has a paraffin base and just like surf boards that are waxed they are more tacky when they are wet.  Best of all, the plastic lumber still has an organic wood look to fit in the garden’s aesthetic.

The boards are created from recycled plastic milk jugs. One foot of 2×4 contains hundreds of used milk jugs so the Boardwalk construction has removed thousands of plastic jugs from the waste stream.

The boards were replaced one by one, allowing visitors normal access into the Garden and the project was completed in just two months.  Soon after, the staircase to Palm Jungle was also reconstructed with plastic lumber.   The Garden’s Boardwalk entry  and Palm Jungle staircase are now more secure, less costly to maintain and should look as good as new for many decades to come.

Another Garden feature in need of attention was our beloved statue of the Hawaiian God KU.  Hewn from an old Monkeypod Tree by Hilo’s own Master Carver Rocky Vargas, Our statue of KU had been standing guard over the Alakahi Stream Trail for the past twenty years.  Unfortunately, those years of exposure to the elements had begun to take a toll.  Pauline Lutkenhouse invited Rocky to come back and carve a new KU out of a block of

Rocky Vargas and KU at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Rocky Vargas and KU at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

wood from a recently fallen Monkeypod Tree. Fortunately, Rocky happily obliged and began coming to the Garden in the early mornings to start carving.  After about three months Rocky had finished a fantastic new KU which would be erected as the centerpiece for the recently expanded Banyan Canyon area.  The new KU is 12 feet tall and wieghs 3 tons!  To complete the installation a bronze plaque was erected alongside the statue which provides some background on Hawaiian Mythology and Master Carver Rocky Vargas.

The Garden gives thanks to Mr. Vargas whose passion, reverence, and respect produced this masterpiece.


Turtle Point Renovation

At the Corner of Turtle Point, not too long ago, there stood an impressive specimen of Pandanus tectorius ‘Variegata.’
Unfortunately after a severe rainstorm with high winds the plant was found uprooted and fallen over with the surrounding pavement also broken up.  After the remains of the plant were removed it was decided to leave that area as an open space with a picnic area as it provides an amazing panorama of ocean views.

The entire Turtle Point area to the end of Alakahi Stream Trail has been repaved and widened allowing for easier access for those with limited mobility.
Marian Kobayashi who, as a tribute to her late parents, donated $10,000 to establish this collection of the famous Anthurium andraeanum, has again generously donated for its expansion.  Hundreds of new plants including old new and rare varieties have been planted, leaving the entire jungle understory in this area awash in vibrant color.

The Garden has also established a Fruit Tree Orchard made possible by a kind donation from recently retired UH Professor and Garden Board Member, Dr. Yoneo Sagawa.

Trees acquired and already planted include the Siam Sweet acerola, Cashew, Siam Seedless Guava, Petsakon Longan, Pui Fah Santol, Bangkok Santol, Giant Vietnamese Sapodilla,Tikal Sapodilla, Rheedia edulis, Long Kong Langsat, Stol, Sugar Apple, Mamey Sapote, Soursop, Mangosteen, Marang, Permsimmon ‘Fuyu’, Giant White Guava, Nutmeg, Ice Cream Bean Tree  and Ficus dammaropsis (Highland Breadfruit.)

Someday, the bounty from all of these tropical trees will be readily available to educate and share with Garden Guests.
Thank you Dr. Sagawa.


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Curtis J. Malia Member of the HTBG Board

The Board of Directors of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden has recently elected Curtis J. Malia to serve as a Member of the Board.

Curtis’s election to our Board is particularly poignant to our Directors. Officers and Staff because he is the husband of our beloved late Board Member, Amy Evans.
He is employed as a Police Radio Operator 911 Emergency Operator, and Police Radio Dispatcher for the County of Hawaii, which encompasses the entire Island of Hawaii.

He has been in this difficult position for 23 years and part of his important work is to train Dispatchers. In a career that normally can only last approximately 5 years because of the stress associated with 911 matters, his 23-year dedication to his profession is astounding and to be highly commended. This is a tribute to Curtis’s life-long passion to help people in need.

HTBG welcomes Curtis J. Malia to serve as a Board Member and thanks him for his interest in assisting in the Garden’s future success.

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The Garden Receives Award of Excellence from Scenic Hawaii’s 2012 Betty Crocker Landscape Awards

The Garden has received an “Award of Excellence” from Scenic Hawaii’s 2012 Betty Crocker Landscape Awards.

Many Thanks to the folks at Scenic Hawaii, Inc. for the recognition and also for all that they do in promoting and carrying out programs that protect Hawaii’s natural beauty. Read More Here.

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2012 Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Newsletter

2012 Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Newsletter

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What’s Blooming? Heliconia colgantea

This Fantastic Pendant Heliconia, Heliconia colgantea R.R. Sm. ex G.S. Daniels & F.G. Stiles, blooms late in the year, November and December. This year it has been more prolific than ever, producing plenty bright pink bracts and setting plenty of seeds.

This Heliconia is native to lowlands of Costa Rica and Panama.

See more at our Plant Database

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