Direct Flights to Hilo starting in June

For quite some time there has been no direct service between Hilo and the Mainland. That is set to change on June 9th, 2011 when UAL’s Continental Airlines will begin service between Hilo and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Click Here for More Info

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Platycerium wandae

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Platycerium wandae This enormous fern is endemic to New Guinea. The Garden’s specimen has reached a height of over 6 feet.

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Garden Improvements – The Welcome Pond

Water Lilies thriving in the Welcome Pond 

Water Lilies thriving in the Welcome Pond

The Garden is always growing and improving! Behind the Garden Entrance Gate was an area densely packed with various trees and impressive rock formations surrounding a natural blue-rock pond. In order to better highlight the pond and rock formations, several trees were removed to expand the viewing area. Garden staff excavated the pond and populated it with an array of eye-catching water lilies. All around the pond a beautiful groundcover Hemigraphis colorata was planted and several Medinilla magnifica are now perched upon the rocks, showing their bright pink flowers. Visitors now have a new feature to enjoy as they first enter the Garden. We call it the “Welcome Pond”.

The Garden has also added many Vireyas or Tropical Rhododendrons to its collection. Vireyas have exotic, wonderfully scented, vibrant flowers. Most of the 300 species grow in tropical but mountainous regions in New Guinea, Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra and the Philippines.

Many grow epiphytically (without soil) in tall trees in cloud forests and are cold hardy to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We have planted our Vireyas on the lava cliff side of the Boardwalk.

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Saving Rare and Endangered Palms

Palm Vista

Palm Vista at HTBG

Part of our mission at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is to educate our visitors about the endangerment of the world’s rainforests and to acquire, preserve and propagate as many rare and endangered tropical plant species as possible to help ensure their survival for    future generations

The Garden’s Founders, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse,  have always been deeply concerned about the rapid  destruction of our world’s rainforests and tropical plants, and with good reason.  Nearly half of the world’s species of plants, animals and microorganisms live in the rainforest and are facing extinction due to unchecked deforestation.  In fact, twenty percent of the original rainforest is already gone and with it countless species have already been lost.

People have relied on tropical plants from the rainforest for building materials, medicinal purposes, nourishment and to beautify our living spaces. Today we also know that our rainforests slow global warming by storing massive amounts of carbon.

The high level of genetic variation or biodiversity that is  being lost is essential for species adaptability and continued species evolution.  The danger of this loss to the health of our entire planet and all living things cannot be overstated.

Here we will focus on just one small but valuable part of the rainforest that is being lost, the palm tree.  Palms are trees in the family Arecaceae,  sometimes referred to as Palmae. Palms are widely distributed in the tropical regions of the world, with some species venturing into subtropical or even temperate zones. The Palm Family has over 200 genera and 2,800 species.

Throughout our history, palms have been a most useful  resource. Leaves are used for thatching both the roofs and walls of houses. Leaflets are used for weaving mats, hats, baskets and other useful items. The stems of climbing palms such as Calamus, commonly called Rattan Cane, are used for furniture.  Palm sugar, palm wine, palm hearts and various fruits from a number of palms such as Date Palms and Coconut Palms provide us with food. Carnauba wax, used in automobile and furniture polishes, is produced from the leaves of the Copernicia prunifera palm.

During its thirty years in existence, the Garden has  endeavored to protect, propagate and display endangered palms for their unique beauty and to educate the public about their plight.

<i>Pelagodoxa henryana</i> (Marquesas Palm)

Pelagodoxa henryana (Marquesas Palm)

One such palm is the unique Pelagodoxa henryana,  commonly refered to as the Marquesas Palm.  It has large,    entire leaves up to 6.5 feet long and 3 feet wide and its trunk can reach over 20 feet high.  It is native to the Marquesas where it is found in dense rainforest, growing in narrow  ravines in humid valleys at low altitudes.  The ravine along our Boardwalk entry to the Garden matches these conditions exactly and you can see it is thriving there today.

We hope to see its first inflorescence soon which should bear unisexual flowers of both sexes, and can produce fertile seed.  This palm is now nearly extinct in the wild, with only one known population growing in a valley on Nuku Hiva, one of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

Carpoxylon macrospermum

Carpoxylon macrospermum

Another endangered palm is Carpoxylon macrospermum, a monotypic genus endemic to Vanuatu, a South Pacific   island chain. It was first described as Carpoxylon in 1875 from a specimen collected on the Vanuatuan island of Aneityum in 1859. Later attempts to find it on Aneityum failed. Thus, it was thought to be extinct until its accidental “rediscovery” on the Vanuatuan island of Santo in 1987 by Australian botanist John Dowe.

Since then, concerned conservationists in Vanuatu had the brilliant idea to market seeds of Carpoxylon and other palms worldwide to raise money to fund conservation activities.  Thus, the species has made a comeback in cultivation but is still critically endangered in the wild.   HTBG acquired and planted its first specimen in 1995 and it has reached a height of over 20 feet.  Because of its rarity it was planted in a hidden area, but today a more recently planted specimen can be seen near the end of the Boardwalk.

Carpoxylon macrospermum can grow up to 90 feet tall and its crownshaft is an amazing 4 to 5 feet tall!  The leaves are 12 feet long with leaflets 8 inches to 4 feet long.

Oncosperma tigillarium

Oncosperma tigillarium

Pictured to the left is Oncosperma tigillarium, commonly called Nibong Palm.

Native to South-East Asia, this clumping palm is covered in rings of downward-pointing black spines on the younger parts of the trunk.

Found in swampy areas near the coast, the Nibong can reach over 80 feet tall with a diameter of 6 inches.  The trunks are salt tolerant and the wood is used for house construction.

Our Garden sits on the ocean and has several specimens thriving in our collection.

Metroxylon americarum (Caroline Ivory-nut Palm)

Metroxylon americarum (Caroline Ivory-nut Palm)

Metroxylon amicarum, commonly called Caroline Ivory-nut Palm, is a beautiful palm endemic to the Caroline Islands in Micronesia.

This solitary palm grows up to 80 feet tall with spiny leaves.  The chestnut-brown, apple shaped fruit has a white ivory-like inside that can be polished and carved into decorative items and jewelry.

Dan Lutkenhouse planted 3 of these palms at the bottom of the Boardwalk Trail about 14 years ago. Today, you can not miss these 40 foot palms towering over the patch of  Temple Flowers below them.

Hydriastele rheophytica is a recently discovered palm which grows on the banks of rivers in New Guinea.  The name is derived from the Greek hydor meaning water and rheophytes which means growing in or near a stream.

Hydriastele rheophytica

Hydriastele rheophytica

This small, attractive palm grows up to 10 feet tall and has adapted to survive flood conditions by having very flexible stems and finely pinnate leaves which present very little resistance to water flow and let the palm bend with the  water rather than breaking.

This palm is planted in the Kahali’i stream-bed along the Boardwalk.

These palms are just a sample of the many rare and endangered tropical plants the Garden has striven to save and propagate over the years.

Unfortunately the destruction of rainforest habitat continues.   If we are to stem the tide of this devastation, then each of us must behave in an ecologically aware and responsible manner.  There are some simple things we can all do.

One is to recycle our aluminium cans.  This will reduce the need for bauxite, the source of aluminium, which must be mined from the ground in tropical countries.

Also we can use the power of the purse to lessen the demand for unsustainable goods and destructive  practices.  For instance, when purchasing tropical woods for furniture or construction, choose products that have been grown in a sustainable manner, or better yet, use recycled materials.

Finally and most importantly, you can share in the Garden’s mission!  Help us spread awareness of rainforest degradation and how each of us can help.

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The Garden’s Ginger Collection is in full bloom

June is an excellent time to see the Garden’s collection of Gingers, particularly the Honeycomb Gingers (Zingiber spectabile) See the slideshow in fullscreen.

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The Garden’s Magnificent Heliconia Collection


Heliconia Latispaha X Heliconia imbricata cv. “Jose Abalo”

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.

Heliconia longissima

Heliconia longissima

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.

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Anthurium Corner

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.

Anthurium Corner

Anthurium Corner features every shade of Anthurium andraeanum nestled under a large Mulesfoot Fern (Angiopteris evecta).

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.

Anthurium cupulispathum.

Anthurium cupulispathum

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.

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Garden Improvements – Revitalizing Lily Lake

header imageTwenty 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.

Water hyacinth

Water Hyacinth, an excellent bio-filter planted in the gravel filled trench

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.

Water Lettuce

Water Lettuce begins the filtration process in the settling area

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.


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.

Boulder Waterfall

The water is circulated through the wetland starting with a spill over a boulder waterfall.

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.

Pump House Roof

The pump house roof is disguised with a pond liner and a layer of epiphytic soil mix, planted with mosses and ferns.

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.

Rock Wall

A wide pathway and an artfully crafted serpentine rock wall now surround the lake

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.

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Dan Lutkenhouse Memorial

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.

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From Pauline Lutkenhouse – On the Passing of Dan

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.

- Pauline

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