Garden Founder Dan Lutkenhouse has passed away

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.

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Garden Improvements – The Founders’ Birdhouse

The Founders' Birdhouse
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.

Aviary Foundation

After the area was leveled flat, a frame was laid out for a concrete foundation that would secure the aviary’s walls and posts.

aviary structure

Corners Limited custom built the enclosure according to our design and came from Kalamazoo, Michigan to install it.

Alex Burgess

Alex Burgess designed and built the ultimate “Bird Bath” .


Macaws enjoying their new guava wood perches.


Wood benches surround the Birdhouse for easy viewing.

Scarlet Macaw

Ono, our Scarlet Macaw.

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Was that a Hummingbird?

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.

Sphinx Moth

A Hummingbird Hawksmoth preparing to sip nectar from a Cat’s Whisker flower (Orthosiphon stamineus)

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.

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Durian- The King of Tropical Fruits

Durian Fruit

Durian fruits

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!

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Dan & Pauline Lutkenhouse & Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Scholarship Winner 2005-2006

In 1994 Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse established a scholarship and educational fund
dedicated to providing college scholarships to benefit children from the Hilo and Hamakua areas. Eligibility for the scholarship requires that the applicant major in
agriculture, sciences, medicine or nursing.

This summer, a student from Hilo was selected from a wide range of applicants as the beneficiary, in the amount of $2,000.00, for the 2005-2006 academic
year. Miss Giezel Rivera will be a freshman at Seattle University, majoring in Biology. We would like to congratulate Giezel and wish her the best of luck!

In past years, we have followed the students who have received our Scholarship, and continued to assist some for the entire 4 years of College. One such recipient was Miss Maricel Guanio of Pepe’ekeo. Maricel completed her Nursing degree from the
University of Hawaii. She now works as a specialized nurse in a mainland hospital.

We will keep you abreast of Giezel’s progress, as we hope to continue to support her in the years ahead.

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Garden Founder Celebrates His 84th Birthday!

Dan with Durien

Garden Founder, Dan Lutkenhouse, pictured with several Durian fruits from the Garden’s tree

Our Founder, Dan Lutkenhouse, celebrated his 84th birthday on June 8, with the Garden staff and close friends. Our office was quite a festive place, decorated with a banner and many colorful sprays of orchids. Dan was covered in beautiful, fragrant leis presented to him by the Garden staff. A delicious
buffet lunch and, of course, a birthday cake, were enjoyed by all. The Garden staff sang an enthusiastic version of “Happy Birthday” and wished Dan all the best. We were honored that he chose to share his special day with us.

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New Plants and Special Guests

Several important additions have been made to the Garden’s plant collections over recent months. Six species of flowering trees have been added that were not previously represented.   Three specimens of the rare Golden Gardenia (Gardenia sootepensis)  from Thailand were planted along the Boardwalk entry to the Garden.  The flower of this tree opens a creamy,  pale yellow that turns dark gold a day or two after opening.   In addition to the heady scent and great beauty that these trees will add to our visitors’ experience, this species is also of medicinal importance in Thailand for its sesquiterpine lactone content that has antimicrobial and anti-tumor properties.   Research into its possible use in Western medicine is only just getting under way.

On a hill bordering the Visitor Center parking lot, Colville’s Glory (Colvillea racemosa) has been planted.  This highly ornamental tree is a member of the Legume Family and is native to Madagascar where it has been categorized as “Threatened” in the wild due to its increasing scarcity.   During autumn this tree develops long, drooping racemes of orange-yellow flowers from the branch tips just as the tree is losing foliage for the winter, creating a very spectacular display.

Monkey Fruit

Inflorescence on Gustavia superba, The Monkey Fruit Tree

Two forms of the lovely Gustavia superba, a member of the Brazil Nut Family as are our famous Cannonball Trees,  have been planted along the entry Boardwalk.   The large and showy flowers of this medium-sized tree are borne along the thicker branches and trunk,  and the bright red fruits are edible,  with the oily seeds tasting very much like peanuts.   It is the fruit that give the tree its common name of “Monkey Fruit” in its native Panama,  as monkeys adore the fruit.   In addition, a decoction of the tree’s leaves is said to have saved many conquistadores wounded by poisoned arrows.   Jacaranda brasiliensis, a tree that produces exquisite purple flowers,  has been added to the plants along the entry Boardwalk.

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, the staff had the great pleasure of a day-long visit with the Founder’s granddaughter,  Nataja,  a delightful young woman who planted two trees in the Garden: one for herself and another for her little sister,  Samantha.   The two will enjoy watching their trees grow for many years to come. The Red Saraca Tree, Saraca declinata (possibly the same as Saraca indica, but further studies are needed),  was planted in honor of Taja.   When mature,  the tree will burst into masses of richly colored red flowers. A native Hawaiian member of the Aralia Family,  Munroidendron racemosiim,  was planted in honor of Samantha. The species is listed as “Endangered” and is endemic to the Island of Kauai with very few individuals remaining in the wild.   It is the sole representative of the genus, which is remarkable as the only member of the Aralia Family that bears flowers in racemes rather than umbels or heads arranged in panicles.   As the fruit develops, the large drupes crowd together to form a dense hangling cylinder.   It grows as a straight-trunked tree to 15-25 feet in height.   It was wonderful and a real joy to have our Founders’ granddaughters spend a day with us and we hope she returns often to enjoy and explore the extraordinary place her grandparents created.

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Filming in the Garden

Jake Shimabukuro

Jake Shimabukuro at the Garden

A number of filming events have occurred in the Garden over the past several months. The Garden’s great beauty is used to advantage in promoting products in advertising, promoting the State of Hawaii to attract visitors from foreign lands and even as an exotic backdrop for a TV reality show.

The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (HVCB) and Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ), a subsidiary of a large Japanese marketing company,  arranged to shoot photos in the Garden to promote Hawaii in Japan through their ad campaign: “Six Islands – Six Surprises.” The ad features our local famous ukulele virtuoso,  Jake Shimabukuro, as the spokesperson showing “unexpected sights of Hawaii for the Japanese.” It will feature television and radio commercials with Shimabukuro and his original score “Rainbow,” composed for this campaign.  The agency will release a 28-page Hawaii Planning and Sales Guide to make travel agents aware of the “off-the-beaten-track” things to do in Hawaii. A number of posters were created that present Jake before backdrops of Hawaii scenery and these are currently being displayed in Japan’s subway stations and travel agencies. The Garden was used as the location for the “Green Hawaii” posters.   On a very rainy morning, photographers set up at one of the Garden’s upper waterfalls to capture the perfect shot of the ukulele legend,  standing in the rain with a broad and welcoming smile of aloha,  with the waterfall backdrop.   It appears the ad is serving well as the HVCB reports significant increases in visitor arrivals from Japan.

The Proctor & Gamble subsidiary,  Febreze,  was in the Garden to film ad footage in promotion of their latest product: Scentstories, ” a whole new way to experience scents in ihe home.”  The segment filmed in the Garden is to promote the “Tropical Rainforest” scent disc, which is to be released to the market soon.   The project entailed a grand decoration of the three-tier Onomea Falls with thousands of orchids, orange trees, banana trees as well as a wide assortment of exotic tropical flowers.  NBC’s popular reality show, ” Average Joe: Hawaii,” was here to film for a one-day date that one lucky “Average Joe” won on the show.   The episode featured the couple entering the Garden through our beautiful iron gate, walking down the entrance boardwalk and talking with each other at Onomea Falls and in the Palm Jungle.

In early March, Panasonic Visuals will film to promote the Garden as a prime Hawaii visitor destination ina program to be aired on Japanese Travel Channel.

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