June is an excellent time to see the Garden’s collection of Gingers, particularly the Honeycomb Gingers (Zingiber spectabile) See the slideshow in fullscreen.
When the world’s foremost expert on Heliconias, the late Mr. Fred Berry, visited Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden he marveled at the size of our Heliconia mariae and wondered aloud how Garden Founder Dan Lutkenhouse could possibly have gotten them to grow so large. Mr. Berry had traveled the world collecting and naming Heliconias and had never seen such grand specimens. He was co-author of the first book on the genus, Heliconia an Identification Guide, which includes many photos taken of specimens in the Garden.
Mr. Berry’s remarks are a testament to the magic of Onomea. Few places on earth can rival the growing conditions found here. The valley’s constant warmth, high humidity, 160“ of annual rainfall and rich volcanic soil lend an exuberance and vigor to these plants they seldom achieve, even in their native habitats.
From the inception of the Garden, Dan Lutkenhouse began collecting and displaying Heliconias. Today the Garden’s collection includes over 200 varieties of rare and wild collected specimens, and has gained International notoriety among botanists and taxonomists as one of the finest and most extensive collections of Heliconias on public display anywhere.
Heliconias are conspicuous for their inflorescences made up of bracts, modified leaves which come in a vast array of bold colors, shapes, and sizes, and can contain as many as 50 of the tiny true flowers inside. Each Heliconia shoot will produce one inflorescence with multiple bracts that are arranged in one even plane (distichous) or spirally arranged due to the twisting of the rachis. Inflorescences are either erect or pendant. After flowering a shoot will wither and die.
Heliconias are mostly native to Tropical America along with a handful of species from the Pacific Islands. An easy way to recognize a Pacific Species is by the lack of color on their bracts. They are a dull green in color resulting from the fact that its pollinators are night feeding bats that use certain chemical cues and odors rather than sight to locate food sources. Their more numerous American cousins are pollinated by hummingbirds drawn in by the colorful bracts. In Hawaii, earwigs replace the hummingbirds and bats as pollinators.
Heliconias have banana-like leaves and were formerly classified with the banana family but are now classified as their own family, Heliconiaceae. The family name Heliconiaceae and its single genus Heliconia are a reference to Mt. Helicon in Greece, home of the Muses, because of their similarity to the banana family, Musaceae, which refers to the Muses.
During the Summer months, our Heliconia collection is in full bloom. Some highlights include the rare Heliconia longissima. Standing at the Head of the Heliconia Trail, visitors are dwarfed by its inflorescences dangling over 10’ long containing as many as 50 bracts and foliage towering 20’ feet above.
Located by the Founders’ Birdhouse, the aptly named Heliconia regalis cultivar “Barnum and Bailey” produces hairy, bright orange and yellow bracts that could really be “The Greatest Show on Earth” to the Heliconia enthusiast. If only these bracts kept and traveled well, they would surely have taken the cut-flower industry by storm.
Another rare specimen is Heliconia reptans which displays its inflorescence on the ground like a snake, can be seen across from Fern Circle.
A beautiful new addition to the Garden is Anthurium Corner. This area was made possible in part by our newest Benefactor, Marian Kobayashi who, as a tribute to her late parents, (Anthurium farmers for many years on the Big Island) donated $10,000.
This magical corner features every shade of Anthurium andraeanum (Araceae family) nestled beneath a large prehistoric-looking Mulesfoot Fern (Angiopteris evecta). The giant fern provides shade that these Anthuriums need to thrive. A bench across the path from this colorful bounty provides a quiet place to sit and admire the beauty.
In addition to Anthurium Corner, the Garden has a large collection of species Anthuriums on display. One eye-catching species is Anthurium cupulispathum. Native to Ecuador, this Aroid has become a favorite of garden visitors. Its huge inflorescence is a sight to behold; the petal-like spathe forms a cover or “cupola” over the enormous hanging flower-bearing spadix. The spadix can reach up to three feet long and can host thousands of tiny flowers.
Twenty years ago, Garden Founder Dan Lutkenhouse envisioned adding a large pond in the center of the Garden as a home for Koi and Goldfish and as a showcase for Water Lilies and other aquatic plants. He and the Garden staff excavated the pond by hand and it became a highlight for all visitors to enjoy the brilliantly colored fish and Lily blossoms. Dan proudly named it Lily Lake.
Two decades later a major effort was needed to return Lily Lake and its surroundings to its original luster. The Garden enlisted the help of local water feature expert and retired engineer Alex Burgess. This project included a complete cleaning of the lake floor, a new rock wall for safety and beauty, and most importantly, a new natural wetland filtration system to keep the water clear.
A wetland filtration system eliminated the need for expensive filters and costly maintenance, while adding beautiful aquatic plants to the area. Plants such as Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) , Water Hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata) are known to be excellent at removing a lot of the nutrients in the water that pond polluting algae need to thrive.
Because these plants can become invasive, Lily Lake remains self contained with no cross contamination of pond water into the valley’s streams or oceanfront.
To create the wetland area, a 100 ft long trench was dug by hand around one-third the circumference of the lake.
The trench was then lined and filled with gravel and plants. The water is circulated through the wetland starting with a spill over a boulder waterfall, then a passage through an 80-foot long settling area filled with floating plants (Water Lettuce), followed by a flow through a gravel-filled planted section (Pickeral Weed and Water Hyacinth) which is aerated and charcoal filtered at the end. Finally, the water exits back into the lake over a spillway.
Moving the water through this system are three high efficiency pumps and one aerator. Each pump serves a separate function. The first pump draws water from the end of the wetland and discharges it through jets in the lake, which slowly rotates the water. The second pump skims the surface water, removes leaves and floating debris, and discharges it over the waterfall. The third pump takes water from the bottom of the lake and pumps it over the waterfall. The three pumps can circulate 18,000 gallons per hour.
Protecting the water and air pumps from the weather is a small pump house. To preserve the Garden aesthetic, the pump house roof is covered with pond liner and a layer of epiphytic soil mix and planted with mosses and ferns to complete the disguise. This green design makes it indistinguishable from the surrounding jungle.
A wide pathway and an artfully crafted serpentine rock wall now surround the lake, and benches invite the visitor to sit and enjoy the koi and goldfish that frolic at the lake edge.
Carefully chosen plants for ground cover add greatly to the natural serenity, while reducing maintenance. The results of all these efforts are clean water, happy and active fish, beautiful scenery, and a new life for Lily Lake.
In honor of the Garden’s Founder Dan Lutkenhouse, a bronze Bas-Relief and name-plate has been created and mounted on a specially chosen, two-ton, flat-faced stone near the Garden’s Entrance Gate.
June 8, 1977 was the first day Dan Lutkenhouse stepped foot onto The Big Island of Hawaii; it was also his birthday. He and I toured the island and were shown the property on Onomea Bay that is now Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Dan fell in love with the beautiful valley-on-the-ocean and just could not forget it. He was in the midst of selling his San Francisco 48-State trucking company and he was not ready to retire at 55 years of age. Being a hard-working businessman all his adult years, he had to satisfy himself with a good reason to buy the 25 acres on the ocean. He decided about one year later, after many trips back to the Big Island from San Francisco, that he was looking at his calling for the rest of his life, and vowed to create a Garden for people to enjoy, and make his dream to preserve Onomea Bay, a reality.
We purchased the valley-on-the-ocean and later made The Big Island of Hawaii our permanent home. Dan spent every day for 8 years carving out what was an unbelievably overgrown, trash-filled valley into a Garden like no other. His innate love of beauty and amazing eye for capturing the essence of nature produced a Hawaiian paradise, world-renown today and acclaimed to be the most beautiful area in Hawaii.
Over 3,000,000 people have visited the Garden, and it has been filmed and photographed by the world. Most importantly, the Garden has brought peace, serenity and happiness to so many people, whose comments about their walks through the Garden are truly heart-touching. Horticulturists from academia everywhere explore the collections of rare, endangered and exotic plantings.
One could fill a volume with his accomplishments and good deeds, but he never cared about status or self-importance. How fortunate we all are to have been present in his time.
To fulfill his dream of preserving Onomea Bay while establishing a most beautiful Garden which would last forever, he later purchased land that surrounded the Bay and donated it, also, to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Now overseen by a small Board of Directors, it thrives, -and Dan’s vision, determination, artistry and creativity is felt everywhere you walk in the Garden.
….One can truly say that this man, Dan Lutkenhouse, left the world a better place.
Dan Lutkenhouse was born in Cleveland, Ohio, June 8th, 1921, son of Ethelind and John Lutkenhouse. His father John was a civil engineer who taught Dan how to build, create, and work hard, while his mother Ethelind taught Dan to love the beauty of nature—to plant a seed each day and carefully watch it grow into a beautiful flower or tree.
As he grew to be a young man, Dan began working for a well-known jeweler, who fostered his innate artistic sense as well as the dexterity required to work on tiny and intricate jewelry. Such skills would serve Dan well as he was drafted into the service on January 21, 1943. Originally scheduled to be deployed to the Front in Africa, he was transferred to White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, where his deft hands could be put to use building classified military hardware.
On December 8, 1945, Dan was honorably discharged from the U.S. army, and then joined his father’s small moving company in San Francisco.
Over the next few years, Dan expanded the business to cover 48 states, employing 200 people, and even extended the company’s reach overseas by adding an international freight forwarding company.
In 1977, Dan and wife Pauline discovered Onomea Bay while vacationing on the Big island and purchased the 17 acre parcel for its seclusion and natural beauty.
In 1978, Dan decided to establish a Botanical Garden and nature preserve in the valley. Dan sold his trucking business and he and Pauline moved to Hawaii in order to devote themselves fully to the garden.
For the next six years, Dan and a few helpers worked tirelessly to clear the jungle of wild invasive trees, weeds and strangling vines. All the work was done by hand to avoid disturbing the natural environment or destroying valuable plants or roots.
Dan himself chose the location of every plant introduced to the Valley, using his eye for beauty to create a living tapestry to delight the senses at every turn.
In 1984, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden opened to the public. To enhance the Garden, Dan and Pauline traveled throughout the world to find rare and endangered tropical plants.
The Garden’s mission has grown over the years to include educational and children’s programs, a college scholarship for local students to study the natural sciences, raising awareness of the plight of the world’s tropical rainforests, and to serve as a living seed bank for endangered plants.
Recently, even as health concerns became evident and his mobility limited, Dan still came to the Garden most days to oversee new projects such as the building of our new Birdhouse and the restoration of Lily Lake.
On February 12, 2007 Dan Lutkenhouse passed away, but his spirit will live on in the Garden in a Valley on the Ocean. His legacy will continue to inspire and educate future generations, as well as protect and preserve a special place we know as Onomea.
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve has been enjoyed by local people and visitors alike for over thirty years. To date, over three million visitors have roamed the winding garden paths of our beautiful Onomea Valley and the reputation of the Garden has reached far and wide. The Garden’s education program has exposed thousands of Hawaii students to the science of botany and the importance of protecting the world’s rainforests.
However, the Garden’s work is never finished. Founder Pauline Lutkenhouse and the Garden’s dedicated staff continue to search for ways to improve the Garden experience for our guests.
One recent improvement was to create a spacious new home for the Garden’s Macaws. When first brought into Onomea valley, the young chicks were not in an enclosure, but they would stay near their perches, where they were fed and cared for. As they grew older, they began to disappear into the jungle for long periods and it was decided that for their safety, the birds would need to be placed in enclosures. Three separate enclosures were created, while at the same time, plans were hatched to create an aviary large enough to accommodate all of the macaws. Generous donations from our visitors poured in as building plans were assembled and the difficult conservation land permit process begun.
As soon as our plans were approved and enough money had been raised, the macaws were temporarily moved off-site so work could begin. The old enclosures were removed and Garden staff cleared and leveled the area for the concrete foundation. Corners Limited custom built the enclosure according to our design and came from Kalamazoo, Michigan to install it.
With the building up, it was time to create the ideal home for our macaws. The ground inside was filled with familiar tropical plants. Perches were cut from guava wood, avoiding synthetic perches which can damage claws. Because Macaws love to bathe and water is good for their feathers, we asked local water feature expert and retired engineer Alex Burgess to design and build the ultimate “Bird Bath.” Alex created an amazing water-scape with three small waterfalls and shallow pond where the macaws can often be seen frolicking about. Best of all, the water is all recycled and the water pumps are solar powered making it environmentally friendly.
Macaws are very social animals with high intelligence, curiosity, and personality and thus do require daily stimulation. With the addition of bird “toys”, plenty of room to fly, and lots of interaction with visitors and staff, their new home provides all of the stimulation they need. Since any group of birds will establish a pecking order, they are carefully monitored to make sure that there is no excessive “bullying” that might endanger their well being.
All of our macaws were purchased from a reputable local breeder. This is especially important in the case of the endangered Scarlet Macaw because deforestation is destroying their natural habitat at the same time Scarlet chicks are being aggressively poached because of their high value on the black market. In addition, Scarlets are slow breeders producing only one or two chicks every other year.
We have a beautiful Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) named ‘Ono’ for Onomea Valley. She is the star of the aviary as she is the most talkative and feisty of all the macaws. Anyone who has entered the aviary can tell you that Ono needs a firm hand.
On the other hand, our three Green-winged Macaws (Ara chloroptera) are gentle giants. They are named Ala, Kahi, and Kaha; Ala and Kahi, for the Alakahi stream running through the valley; and Kaha, for the Kahalihi stream which also runs through Onomea Valley.
We also have two Blue-and-Gold Macaws (Ara ararauna) named Hama and Kua for the Hamakua Coast. These Macaws are the most popular pet macaws and breed well in captivity.
If you haven’t already, we do hope that you will come and enjoy what we call “The Founders’ Birdhouse” in honor of Garden Founders Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse. It is a sheer delight to watch these magnificent creatures frolic, fly, and screech with joy.
Our Garden and Gift Shop staff are often asked by visitors, “Was that a Hummingbird I saw?”
The answer is No, Hummingbirds are not found in Hawaii. The small creature they are referring to is a day-flying moth. Two species of moths, Macroglossum stellatarum and
Macroglossum pyrrhosticta, are often seen feeding on various flowers in the Garden.
These moths, commonly known as Hummingbird Hawkmoths or Sphinx Moths are newcomers to The Hawaiian Islands, being first observed on Oahu in 1976.
Since that time, they have spread to all of the Islands. They may be seen year-round, although most moths are
observed in early Spring as this is their peak hatching time.
The moths have many similar physical and behavioral characteristics to Hummingbirds. They are approximately one to one-and-a-half inches long with a
two inch wingspan. Most have gray bodies with dark markings on the wings, although some species also have pink, rust, or white markings on their bodies. Adding to the confusion is their extremely long proboscis, which they use to sip nectar from long, tubular shaped flowers.
This appendage is often mistaken for a bird’s bill. While feeding, the moths hover in front of the plants rapidly flapping their wings, which also give them the appearance of Hummingbirds.
The next time you visit the Garden you may want to look for these interesting moths along the boardwalk. They especially enjoy the Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon stamineus) and lmpatiens (Impatiens walleriana) plants.
An impressive sight in our Garden is our Durian (Durio zibethinus), a tropical lowland tree native to Southeast Asia that is often referred to as the “King of Fruits”. This regal tree has a massive, straight trunk that can attain a height of 100 feet and glossy green leaves that have a silvery bronze underside.
The crowning glory of this species is the fruit it bears. The Durian produces large oblong fruit, weighing up to 10 Ibs. each, which is green while maturing, then turns a yellowish color. It is covered with sharp, stubby spines and most specimens have a strong odor which some people find objectionable or even repulsive. The fruit takes about 3 months to mature. It then falls to the ground and ripens in about two or three days. Once on the ground they split open revealing up to 5 segments of soft, custard-like pulp which is very sweet, rich and filling.
The Garden’s Durian Tree is located behind the Cook Pine tree, where there is no danger of the fruit falling on anyone. Planted twelve years ago, the tree has grown over 50 feet tall and set fruit for the first time this May, bearing over 45 fruit.
The variety of Durian we have is called Gom Pun. Compared to some of the other varieties grown commercially, the Gom Pun tends to be sweeter and richer, in addition to having a higher oil content. The Garden staff, several visitors and our Founders, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse, sampled some of the fruit. We look toward to even more fruit being produced in years to come!