This morning we departed the town of Kalaheo and headed up the north coast to Ha’ena, home of Limahuli Garden and Preserve, a branch of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). Limahuli is described as being "a window to ancient Hawai’i." Director Kawika Winter explained that Limahuli’s mission is both scientific and cultural in nature. The garden staff aims to protect native Hawaiian plant diversity and preserve native Hawaiian culture and traditions.
Making our way through the garden, we were joined by Katie Champlin, Operations Manager, and the newest member of the 15 person staff at Limahuli Garden and Preserve. We toured the five main areas of the garden, each having a distinctive focus, but remaining united by the garden’s overall mission devoted to scientific and cultural preservation.
As we began our tour through the 17-acre garden that cascades down the Limahuli valley, Kawika described the garden as being built on three "foundations" that govern its mission. The first foundation is the 700 year old terraces. These walled platforms serve as a historic record of the traditional agricultural uses of this land for growing taro, sugar cane, sweet potato, and banana. The second foundation is made up of the native Hawaiian plants that exist on the property. Since the garden’s focus shifted towards native plants 15 years ago, its collection has grown to include 39 federally listed endangered species. The third foundation is made up of the connections that the Limahuli Garden and Preserve has with the local community. Kawika indicated that the community surrounding Limahuli has roots over 2,000 years old and that it is the garden’s goal to facilitate the continuing traditions of this community. Because of these strong community traditions, Kawika views himself as holding two very important roles: the "easy" role of garden director and the "more difficult" role of community leader.
The first two sections of the garden focus on educating the public about the way that plants have shaped the cultural heritage of Hawai’i through time. The Canoe Plants section of the garden includes plants that were brought to Hawai’i by the Polynesians as early as 200-300 A.D. These plants have been used for food and fiber since their arrival and shape contemporary Hawaiian culture. The next section, the Plantation Era Garden, informally nicknamed "Hawai’i Today," represents iconic Hawaiian plants such as the plumeria and mango. Brought to Hawai’i in the 1800s and 1900s, these plants are not considered native, but they illustrate the melting pot of cultures that call Hawai’i home.
The other three sections of the garden focus on scientific and environmental issues facing Hawaiian ecosystems. The Native Forest Walk aims to recreate pristine Hawaiian woodlands and teach visitors about habitat preservation and restoration. This is followed by the Invasive Forest Walk, an area dominated by a monotypic landscape of invasive, alien species. A final area entitled Landscaping with Natives aims to be an example of an attractive native landscape for the homeowner.
As we toured the grounds, it was evident that the interpretive efforts are aimed at teaching the public about Hawaiian culture. On each plant label, the traditional Hawaiian name is the main feature, accompanied by the botanical name and region of origin.
After seeing the impressive displays in the Limahuli Garden, we were then taken to the Limahuli Preserve. This important area is comprised of over 900-acres that were donated to the National Tropical Botanical Garden in the early 1990s. The Preserve had been so damaged by both hurricanes and cattle, that conditions were perfect for exotic species to overrun the area. Mike Wysong, Restoration Project Manager, described that restoration staff members are now removing the exotic species to implement ecological "intersitu" restoration, or returning extirpated species to their native plant communities in 15-acres of the Preserve.
As is the practice at Limahuli, scientific and cultural preservation dictate the restoration projects in the conservation area. In addition to preserving native plants and restoring biodiversity, restoration efforts will re-establish plant species that are utilized by traditional Hawaiian healers in the community.
Learning about the Limahuli Garden and Preserve gave us a greater understanding of the NTBG network and the importance of plant conservation on the Hawaiian Islands. Kawika indicated that the island of Kaua’i is home to 50,000- 60,000 residents; a population that is greatly outnumbered by tourists on any given day. After speaking with the dedicated staff at the Limahuli Garden, we all learned that without appropriate education, both residents and tourists alike may let the Hawaiian Islands lose their native plant species along with their sense of culture. It was truly inspiring to see that NTBG is dedicated to educating the public and the local residents about the importance of preserving Hawaiian ecosystems for generations to come.