Limahuli Garden History

For at least 1,500 years the Limahuli Valley has been a Hawaiian place. Today, Limahuli is one of of the last easily-accessible valleys with intact archaeological complexes, native forest, pristine stream, and the presence of the descendants of the valley’s original inhabitants caring for it.

Limahuli is the largest of two valleys in the ahupua’a (traditional community) of Ha’ena. Well-known in ancient times because its presence in song, chant, proverbs and poetry, Ha’ena was the setting for two chapters in the epic tale of Hi’iaka-i-ka-poli-o-pele (the youngest sister of Pele, goddess of lava). It is also one of only two places where the sacred ‘oahi (fireworks) ceremony was performed from atop the majestic Makana mountain.

In more recent history, Ha’ena was one of the last standing and functioning ahupua’a in all of Hawai’i. In 1955, at the request of the Hui Ku’ai ‘Aina O Ha’ena, an association that had acquired the entire ahupua’a in 1875, the Fifth Circuit Court began proceedings to partition the land and create fee simple ownership of the ahupua’a. This process took 12 years to complete, during which time Hawai’i became a state and the new government designated the ahupua’a of Ha’ena as a new State Conservation District.

At the end of the partition process in 1967, Limahuli Valley was assigned to Juliet Rice Wichman, a member of the Hui who had long recognized the need to preserve and protect Limahuli. She immediately removed the cattle and began developing a garden. Land was cleared, gravel roads were installed, and restoration work to the taro terraces started. In 1976, she gifted the lower part of the Valley, now known as Limahuli Garden, to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and upon her death left the nearly 1,000 remaining acres to one of her grandsons, Chipper Wichman. After receiving formal training in tropical horticulture, both at NTBG and the University of Hawai’i, Wichman continued his grandmother’s legacy by adding plantings in the Garden portion and conducting a botanical survey of the area known today as Limahuli Preserve. Subsequently, in 1994, Wichman gave his acreage to NTBG as well, forming Limahuli Garden and Preserve as we know it today.

The goal for Limahuli Garden and Preserve is the ecological and cultural restoration of Limahuli Valley, using the ahupua’a system of resource management as a template for this work. Limahuli has won several awards in recognition of our work. These include the “Best Natural Botanical Garden” award from American Horticultural Society for demonstrating the “best environmental practices of water, soil, and rare plant conservation in an overall garden design”; and the Koa Award for our dedication to the perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture.

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