The plant collections at Limahuli Garden showcase our conservation efforts by focusing on the beauty of plants that are native to Hawai‘i and/or culturally significant to Hawaiians. They include endemic Hawaiian species, plants introduced by the early Polynesian voyagers, as well as culturally important plants that were introduced during the plantation era starting in the mid-1800s. The collections in Limahuli Garden are used for the purposes of conservation, cultural perpetuation, and education.
Limahuli’s native plant collections focus on species from northern-western Kaua‘i. These include rare and endangered species that are on the verge of extinction in the wild such as Pritchardia limahuliensis, or loulū, a native fan palm in the Arecaceae, or Palm family, found only in Limahuli Valley; Brighamia insignis, or ālula, a member of the Campanulaceae, or Bell Flower family, which grew only on the sea cliffs of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau; Munroidendron racemosum, a member of the Araliaceae, or Ginseng family, that is so rare that its Hawaiian name has been lost to time; and Hibiscus waimeae subsp. hannerae, or koki‘o ke‘oke‘o, a member of the Malvaceae, or Mallow family, which was once thought extinct until it was rediscovered in the back of Limahuli Valley.
Our Hawaiian ethnobotanical collection is made up of the rare varieties of crop plants that were cultivated by the early Hawaiians. These include various cultivars of taro (kalo or Colocasia esculenta), a member of the Araceae, or Arum family, which are planted in carefully restored terraces, or lo‘i, once used by the ancient Hawaiians; sweet potato, or ‘uala, Ipomoea batatas, a member of the Convolvulaceae, or Morning Glory family;bananas, or mai‘a , Musa spp. in the Musaceae, or Banana family; kō, or sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum), a member of the Poaceae, or Grass family; and more. This collection also includes other early Polynesian introductions that were important components of daily life in pre-contact Hawai‘i such as food, clothing, and medicine.
Plantation era plants include colorful and fragrant flowers, as well as tropical fruits that have become iconic symbols for Hawai‘i. Perhaps no flower is as emblematic of Hawai‘i as the plumeria, or melia or frangipani. Also called the lei flower, Plumeria species are tropical American members of the Apocynaceae, or Dogbane family. Other tropical flowers include many varieties of ‘awapuhi, members of the Ginger, or Zingiberaceae family, and Heliconias, in the Heliconiaceae family. Of particular significance to Limihuli are the lilia pala‘ai, or daylilies, Hemerocallis sp.,in the Hemerocallidaceae family, originally planted in the Valley by Juliet Rice Wichman. Of course, there are manako, or mangoes, Mangifera indica, in the Anacardiaceae, or Sumac family, and papayas, Carica papaya, in the Caricaceae (Papaya) family.
The largest part of the Limahuli Valley comprises a natural preserve where projects are being undertaken to restore the native ecosystem. Many of the indigenous and endemic species from the preserve that have been propagated in Limahuli’s nursery are planted in Limahuli Garden. Plants in the Preserve are primarily the focus of conservation efforts and scientific research.