Today we left Oahu to explore the south shore of the island of Kaua’i. Our home for the next few days is the small town of Kalaheo, the location of the headquarters of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). Chartered by Congress in 1964,
NTBG is comprised of a network of five gardens and three preserves within the Hawai’ian Islands and totals over 1800 acres. The network includes the McBryde Garden, Allerton Garden and Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kaua’i; Kahanu Garden on Maui; the Kampong in Florida; and two preserves on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
The gardens at Kalaheo encompass nearly 350 acres defined by two distinct sites, the McBryde Garden and the Allerton Garden. Both gardens exemplify the extraordinary history that pervades this valley.
We were soon greeted by Chipper Wichman, CEO and Director of NTBG who spoke about the rich history and mission of NTBG. Chipper is extremely passionate about biodiversity and NTBG’s role in stemming the plant extinction process, and he enthusiastically professes the organization’s goals of discovery, research, conservation, and education.
NTBG is an active participant in botanical exploration, headed by field botanist Ken Wood. Research efforts focus on in-situ and ex-situ conservation projects, taxonomy, Polynesian ethnobotany and ethno-medicinal research.
NTBG has extensive educational outreach programs that reach out to students in grades K-12, high school and college interns, teachers, college professors, physicians, and environmental journalists, just to name a few. NTBG strongly believes in “invigorating science” and the trickle down effect that can occur when people are excited about science.
NTBG is adding a fourth building to the already existing campus. This new building will centralize research and education while giving NTBG the needed space to grow as an organization. The future Botanical Research Center is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building, which will include a photovoltaic roof and will be built from recycled wood.
Chipper spoke with us about the challenges of being the CEO of NTBG, which include keeping the five NTBG pieces part of a whole, the battle between the visitor experience and generating revenue, and picking up the pieces after the devastation of Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
Rick Hanna, NTBG Librarian, also shared with us wise words about botanical garden management, likening NTBG to a three-legged stool supported by the herbarium, the library, and the living collection. Lose the support of one, and the institution falls. The NTBG library houses over 15,000 botanical and horticultural titles and the research herbarium is the most active herbarium in the Pacific.
At lunch, we were shown NTBG’s emphasis on the preservation of the Hawai’ian culture. We were welcomed by Director of Education, Dr. Namulau’ulu Tavana with kukui nut necklaces followed by a ceremony of song and dance performed by two local Hawai’ian women
After lunch, we were introduced to NTBG’s plant collections that include a diversity of tropical species and native Hawai’ian plants. Mike DeMotta, Assistant Director of Living Collections and Horticulture; Erica Lindelof, Conservation Technician; and Dave Bender, Restoration Ecologist toured us through the McBryde Garden. There are approximately 4,000-6,000 species of tropical plants in the McBryde Garden. The majority of the plants are endangered and rare.
We also met with Bob Nishek, Nursery Manager, who shared with us the challenges of growing rare and endangered species for the collections. We were most impressed when he showed us his simple potting mix of light, rough, black cinder.
Richard Kanahele, Lead Gardener; Janet Mayfield, COO and CFO; and Rick Hanna, toured us through the Allerton Garden. This garden has nine gardeners on an 80 acre, intensely planted site and was Robert Allerton’s attempt to defeat the tropical conditions and create formal gardens. One of the highlights of this garden include the world’s rarest plant, Kanaloa kahoolawenis.
We went from formality back to nature when Emory Griffin-Noyes, Conservation Technician showed us the ongoing Beach Restoration Project. He explained the negative effects that harsh coastal conditions have on establishing an understory. The highlight was viewing sea turtle nests that have been absent from this beach for almost a decade.
At our last stop, we visited the Lane Visitor Center, located in a restored 1920s sugar plantation home on ten acres of cultivated gardens. NTBG hosts 50,000-60,000 visitors annually, of which 30,000 partake in volunteer led garden tours.
After visiting the magical Kalaheo gardens, we are really looking forward to our visits at other NTBG gardens as NAX continues!