Some plants are recognized for their visual beauty, for their fascinating shapes or smells, for their rarity, or for their ethnobotanical or research value. Many offer combinations of these characteristics.
We invite you to experience these plants. If you live near one of our gardens, make a date to see these plants first hand by visiting tours.ntbg.org and selecting the garden of your choice. Regardless, we hope you enjoy seeing some of these remarkable creations of nature.
Limahuli Featured Plant: Doryopteris angelica
Doryopteris angelica is a native Hawaiian fern which grows in mesic forests nowhere but the island of Kaua`i. This very rare, localized fern is known in the wild from only three populations ranging from just a few individuals to no more than 20, growing in valleys at elevations of 2,600-2,900 feet.
Like most of Hawai`i’s native plants, it lacks defense mechanisms. The fern is extremely vulnerable to feral pigs, deer, and recently introduced alien plant species.
This plant gets it species name “angelica” from the wing-like ridges on the stipes or leaf stalks.
Look for this fern growing above the first set of benches under the hapu`u fern in the “Dave’s Forest Walk” section of the garden.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11934
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Fiddlehead fern
This edible fern (Diplazium esculentum) is enjoyed in various countries across Asia and Hawai‘i. Although in Hawai‘i it is called by the same Hawaiian common name, hō`i`o, as its native relative (D. arnottii, ) this species is a modern introduction which grows denser and more aggressively than the Hawaiian species.
Tightly coiled fiddleheads have long been favorite Hawaiian dish, frequently eaten with ‘ōpae (fresh water shrimp).
One mo‘olelo (Hawaiian legend) tells of four sisters who had insatiable appetites that caused famine as they roamed the islands looking for more food. When two of the sisters arrived on Kaua‘i, the chief of Hā‘ena (location of Limahuli Garden) invited them to a mountain top for an elaborate feast where ‘ōpae and hō‘i‘o were intentionally saved for last, just before sunrise. The chief knew the sun’s rays were lethal to the glutinous girls but when they realized they’d eaten until dawn, it was too late – they were turned to stone.
This plant grows as a rich green groundcover around the garden, but look for patches marked as the 4th feature on the self-guided walking tour near the Limahuli Stream.
Best seen: year-round
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Koki‘o
Hibiscus cf. kokio, known simply as koki‘o, grows as a shrub or small tree.
This Hawaiian hibiscus grows in both wet and dry forests at elevations up to 2,600 feet. It suffers from grazing pressure from introduced ungulates like goats and deer, as well as pressures from alien plant species.
Koki‘o tolerates drought-like conditions well and is suitable as an accent plant in native Hawaiian plant gardens, especially on the leeward side of the islands. The increase of non-native grasses growing around these plants in the wild increases the likelihood that they will be lost to wild fires during dry periods.
Koki`o grows along Dave’s Forest Walk and on the hillside overlooking the ocean about three-quarters of the way along the self-guided tour. Look for smallish bright red blooms and stiff, glossy green leaves.
Best seen: throughout the year
Want to see more information on Hibiscus? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/choose_a_plant.php
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Water lily
A summer morning is the perfect time to gaze upon a newly unfurled water lily. Water lilies can bloom night or day and, depending on the variety, are sometimes quite fragrant.
Like the sacred lotus which water lilies are often misidentified as, Nymphaea grows rooted deep in the muddy bottoms of pools. Broad, flat leaves float on the water while a tubular stem lifts pink, purple, white, yellow, or even blue blossoms above the water’s surface.
A popular aquascape plant, hardy varieties can be found in temperate areas worldwide, with tropical water lilies growing in warmer regions of South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands.
Look for beautiful large pink water lilies blooming in the lower lo‘i (water terraces) near the Visitor Center.
Best seen: throughout the year
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Ko‘oko‘olau
Bidens forbesii subsp. forbesii is both a perennial and annual herb found mostly in wet forests around Kaua‘i’s north shore valleys and central summits. The showy flower head has bright yellow rays with darker yellow disc flowers.
The Hawaiian native species, ko‘oko‘olau, is imperiled by the typical threats to native plants – wild goats and pigs, invasive alien plants, and erosion which reduces potential habitat.
Bidens is in the daisy family (Asteraceae). This particular subspecies grows nowhere but Kaua‘i but the genus is found in other parts of Polynesia, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. As part of the efforts to protect this plant, NTBG is growing this subspecies in both the Limahuli Garden and in the preserve.
Look for this plant growing in patches in the Dave’s Forest Walk and the Landscaping with Natives areas of the garden.
Best seen: throughout the year, but flowers prolifically during the spring
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Iliau
When people talk about a plant that looks like it’s out of a Dr. Seuss book, they may be referring to iliau (Wilkesia gymnoxiphium). This plant has a tall, slender stalk that can exceed 15 feet. At the top of the stalk is a bushy tuft of leaves (reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s truffula trees).
When mature, the plant produces a 3-4 foot flower stalk from the center of its leaves. Each stalk contains hundreds of yellow, daisy-like flowers which bloom overhead.
Iliau, which is endemic to Kaua‘i, is related to Hawaiian silverswords and greenswords, all of which are in the daisy family (Asteraceae).
An example of iliau is on the route of the self-guided tour, but you will find the plant growing in much of the upper part of the Limahuli Garden in an open area with clear views of the mountains and ocean.
Best seen: April-June
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Māmaki
Although most members of the nettle family (Urticaceae) are associated with the plant’s stinging hairs that secrete toxins of varying degree, this native Hawaiian nettle lacks such a defense. Māmaki (Pipturus albidus), like many Hawaiian plants, lost any natural defense mechanism it may have once had as it evolved in isolation with few, if any, predators. As a result, the tender leaves (look for the silver undercoating) of māmaki are easily eaten by ungulates like deer or goats.
This plant began to rapidly reappear in the garden’s Dave’s Forest Walk once the alien trees were removed. Sunshine and nourishment caused the seeds stored in the ground to proliferate into shrubby plants.
The leaves of māmaki are made into a medicinal tea while the fibers of the plant’s bark are pounded into a traditional Hawaiian cloth bark called kapa. The plant also provides food for the native Kamehameha butterfly.
In the last five years, māmaki has quickly spread in the area of Dave’s Forest Walk, where the shrub forms a low-level canopy for other smaller nearby plants.
Best seen: year round
Want to see more information on another species also called māmaki? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=9025
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Octopus tree
Known around the world as a potted houseplant, Schefflera actinophylla is called octopus tree or, in Hawaiian, he‘e, a name derived from the long red inflorescence which resemble tentacles.
This fast-growing native of Southeast Asia and tropical Australia has a soft, woody stem and long columns of fleshy drupes which attract birds that spread the seeds, especially in forested mountains. These seeds can establish themselves almost anywhere, producing a tree that will quickly grow over, around, or inside another tree, or in a crack, crevice, or even on a solid rock or boulder.
From this standpoint, the octopus tree is very successful, but at the expense of numerous endemic Hawaiian plants. Today, alongside also aggressively invasive autograph tree and strawberry guava, Schefflera demands great vigilance to prevent it from spreading further.
Since Hurricane ‘Iniki (1992), the octopus tree has advanced dramatically in the Limahuli Valley. Staff work to limit and reduce the impact of this tree, but it can still be seen throughout the valley and across the state.
Best seen: octopus trees retain leaves year-round. In the spring and summer these trees produce long, attractive bright red inflorescence.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10292
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: ‘Akoko
‘Akoko (Euphorbia haeleeleana) is an extremely rare Hawaiian native tree. On Kaua‘i it can reach 40-50 feet, though not more than 20 feet on O‘ahu in lowland mesic and dry forests. Within the last decade, 15 known populations with several hundred specimens have been recorded in remote valleys, ridges, and gulches, only on the above two islands. The tree is threatened by habitat degradation from goats, pigs, rats, and deer as well as invasive plants.
Past conservation strategies have included enclosing small populations in fencing, seed banking, propagation, and outplanting in the garden. The ‘akoko growing in Limahuli makes up part of a mixed native Hawaiian forest restoration project designed to protect rare plants and give people the opportunity to experience Hawaiian forest plants they may otherwise never see.
‘Akoko is a member of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) which includes kukui, poinsettia, and the pencil tree.
‘Akoko grows in Dave’s Forest Walk. If you follow the self-guided tour map to feature #19 and sit on the bench, the plant will be directly in front of you.
Best seen: throughout the year
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Gardenia ‘Amy Yoshioka’
The gardenia is one of the world’s most fragrant and beloved flowers. The name alone evokes a sense of calm and beauty, but it is the powerful floral scent of the short-lived, pure white flowers that makes this shrubby member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) so popular. From Asia and Africa to Oceania, dozens of species of gardenia produce soft, white flowers that range from neat pin-wheel patterned petals to rose-like masses of curving, softly pointed blossoms that are outstanding against the plant’s deep, rich, glossy green leaves.
The genus was named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in honor of Dr. Alexander Garden, an 18th century Scottish-born botanist. This particular cultivar was developed from Gardenia jasminoides and is noteworthy for its abundance of large, strongly scented blooms.
Several showy gardenia shrubs grow in the Plantation Era Garden.
Best seen: throughout the year
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Pineapple
Universally associated with Hawai‘i but in fact native to Brazil and Paraguay, Ananas comosus (pineapple) is the world’s most celebrated bromeliad. Hala kahiki (literally “Tahitian or foreign pandanus”), as it is known in Hawaiian, was introduced to Hawai‘i by an advisor to King Kamehameha in 1813 and may have been brought in even earlier.
Early growers like Del Monte, Dole and Maui Land & Pineapple began growing in the early 1900s with Hawai‘i’s production peaking in 1955. Gradually commercial production moved to Central America, Southeast Asia, and Africa in search of lower production costs. In Hawai‘i, large corporate pineapple growers have scaled back considerably or moved out of state entirely but smaller backyard farmers continue to grow this high-demand, slow growing crop.
Anyone who has worked in a pineapple field can attest to the back-breaking work of picking this delicious fruit which takes 18 months or more to mature.
There are several pineapple plants growing in the plantation garden site near the Limahuli Stream.
Best seen: because pineapple can take 18 months or longer to produce fruit, it is difficult to say when they are at their best. When fruit is present, the plant in unmistakable. When absent, it is easily overlooked.
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Common name unknown
Munroidendron racemosum, a member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae), is a medium-sized tree with a straight trunk and spreading branches that is endemic to Kaua‘i. The tree has smooth, gray bark and compound leaves with heart-shaped leaflets that range from small and olive-green with a soft velvety texture to larger, dark green and smooth. The small, pale yellow flowers grow hanging downward in long grape-like clusters called racemes that develop maroon fruits.
The Hawaiian name of this rare species is lost to time.
Munroidendron racemosum occurs naturally no place else on Earth but Kaua‘i. The tree may have once grown all over the island, but today about 100 trees grow in only four locations including Nā Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon. NTBG has a number of these Munroidendron growing at Limahuli Garden, in Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden, and at the Southshore Visitors Center. NTBG is saving the species through cultivation and seed storage.
Munroidendron racemosum can be found throughout Limahuli Garden, but the largest tree grows adjacent to the parking lot near the Visitor Center.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see more information on this plant, as well as listen to an audio presentation? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7754
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: ‘Awa
The first Polynesians to reach Hawai‘i brought plants valued for their medicinal uses, one of the most important being ‘awa, pronounced “ah-vah,” scientifically known as Piper methysticum.
The Hawaiian name means “bitter,” but this plant is used for its relaxing effects by Pacific Island people. The most common method is to crush, mash, or chew the root where the mildly narcotic kavalactones are concentrated. When made into a thick, murky drink, dried into powder, or chewed directly, ‘awa causes the mouth to numb, sometimes tingle and, in larger doses, is said to induce a sense of peacefulness and contentment. ‘Awa is reputed to be an effective means to counter aggressive behavior and associated with elaborate welcome rituals.
This shrubby member of the pepper family grows well in moist, shady areas along streams or is often planted near kalo (taro) patches.
The self-guided tour booklet contains more information about ‘awa and shows the location of this feature.
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=8956
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Pāpala kēpau
Pāpala kēpau (Pisonia wagneriana) is a flowering tree endemic to Kaua‘i in the Nyctaginaceae or four o’clock family. Like other species of Pisonia, pāpala kēpau produces fruits containing a sticky sap used for temporarily trapping birds, thus the nickname the Kaua‘i “catchbird tree.”
This green, glossy-leaf tree is attractive though not particularly outstanding, but pāpala kēpau has an abundance of thin brown pods which are sticky to the touch and excellent for catching unsuspecting birds. Fruits may be straight or curved and measure around five or six inches long.
When colorful native Hawaiian birds landed on the fruits, their feet became stuck and humans were able to harvest the feathers (and then release the bird) for use in cloaks, helmets, and kāhili (feather standard) which were used by royalty. The sticky resin-like sap may have also served in another important function--aiding in the dispersal of seeds by birds.
Pāpala kēpau can be found on the Limahuli Garden self-guided tour main route above Dave’s Forest Walk, listed as plant #25. Look for the long, thin, sticky fruits.
Best seen: throughout the year
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: `Ōhi`a lehua
There may be no more widely recognized native Hawaiian tree than the beloved `ōhi`a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha). This handsome member of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) earned its species name because it assumes many forms, depending upon where it grows, and ranges from towering forest trees to dwarf-sized plants in Kaua`i’s Alaka`i Swamp.
On the island of Hawai`i where `ōhi`a lehua is the official island flower, the tree grows in abundance and is one of the first to emerge from newly solidified lava flows. Its deep, rich reddish brown wood is a highly sought after material in home construction and `ōhi`a flowers are a favorite of lei makers.
This important native tree, sacred to the Hawaiian deities Laka and Pele, and invaluable for watershed protection, can be commonly spotted with bright red blooms throughout Limahuli Garden, but stop to admire the rare orange-to-yellow blossoming `ōhi`a tree as you climb deeper into the garden.
Limahuli Garden has a small yellow flowering `ōhi`a lehua above the Plantation-Era Garden near the rest stop by the stream. Look for the tree behind the drinking water station. An orange-yellow flowering `ōhi`a lehua tree can also be seen from the top rest stop when looking toward the ocean from the point where the trail starts to go downhill.
Best seen: flowering vibrantly from mid-spring to early summer
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7621
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Hau hele `ulaThe hau hele‘ula or koki`o (Kokia kauaiensis) is very large when compared to the similar-looking hibiscus. Found only on the west side of Kaua‘i in five valleys, this species is known to have fewer than 100 remaining individuals in six populations. The genus Kokia only has four species, each endemic to a single Hawaiian island. This species' survival is threatened by invasive non-native plants, habitat degradation, and damage by feral goats, deer, and rats which eat the seeds. The plant is federally listed as an endangered species. Currently NTBG preserves well over a hundred seeds in its seed storage facility. While the tree often lacks flowers, lucky visitors to Limahuli will be struck by the size and color of its blooms. There are six trees in the “Dave’s Forest Walk” section on the tour route. Look for very tall trees with broad green leaves and large reddish orange flowers. Best seen: spring and early summer Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11887
Limahuli Garden Featured Plant: Lobelia niihauensis (no common name) Lobelia niihauensis is a member of Campanulaceae and was formerly found on Ni‘ihau island, but is today known to grow in the wild only on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. Designated an endangered species, it is the subject of a recovery plan that would include maintenance of 5-10 populations of 100 individuals on each Hawaiian island. This herbaceous species has stems which can sprawl over the ground or curve upright and produce hundreds of flowers at a time. The plant’s distinctive magenta blossoms are partly fused but spread open and roll back at the tips. The long floral tubes suggest the flowers may be pollinated by native birds like honeycreepers and honeyeaters which have down-curved beaks well-suited for obtaining nectar. Currently this beautiful, rare native Hawaiian plant can be seen growing in Limahuli Garden at the top of the self-guided walking course in a raised lava rock planting bed that looks out to Makana mountain and the sea. Best seen: mid-to-late spring Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7159