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Rick Kelley

Visited Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden after reopening

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Rick Kelley

This might be more appropriate in the travel log forum, but I rarely look at that, so I'll post here even if it bends the rules a bit.

After more than a month of unusually heavy rain, the skies over Hilo finally cleared in early April. I decided to celebrate the sunshine by heading up to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens just north of Hilo. It had been closed during the pandemic, but reopened April 1. They have rebranded themselves as Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden. This is an amazing place and the first destination locals take visitors. If you have not visited it before, you should check out the website to learn about its history. 

https://htbg.com

Basically, in 1977 a retired couple from the mainland, Dan & Pauline Lutkenhouse, bought 17 overgrown acres of abandoned sugarcane plantation with badly degraded and eroded soil and transformed it into what looks like pristine tropical rainforest. It is amazing that a massive forest can regrow in only 40 years. A similar botanical resurrection was achieved by poet William Merwin on Maui. This is the kind of thing most PT members dream about doing. The fact that this is even possible, and so quickly, provides a thread of hope much of the damage to the world's tropical forests could be reversed if people simply stopped cutting it down or burning it.

Few of the palms have name tags, so my identifications are just my best guesses. But most are pretty obvious. Although there are thousands of palms on the property, 80-90% are the common Archontophoenix alexandrae. These may have been seeded by helicopter to control erosion of steep gulches. The palm collection is almost totally devoid of any Dypsis. Don’t know what was behind that decision.  In no particular order...

A mature Pelagodoxa henryana loaded with fruit greets visitors on the steep boardwalk down to the garden.

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The three monstrous Metroxylon amicarum at the bottom of the boardwalk have been shown many times on PT. Here I’ll just zoom in on the enormous crowns loaded with fruit. The ground underneath the trees is covered with fallen fruit. It’s heartbreaking to see it going to waste when so many people would love a chance to try germinating them. Of course, collecting any plant material is completely prohibited.

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Rick Kelley

There is a small grove of maybe half dozen Phoenicophorium borsigianum around a lily pond. These are about 30 feet (10 m) tall. I don’t know where else you could find trees of this size outside the Seychelles.

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Another Seychelles favorite is Verschaffeltia splendida, probably over 40 ft (13m) tall. Once they get really tall, the entire leaves get torn by the wind.

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Finishing up the Seychelles species with Deckenia nobilis. The sheath holding the developing inflorescence always reminds me of Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors.

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Chambeyronia macrocarpa from New Caledonia.

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Carpoxlylon macrospermum from Vanuatu. This is an exceptionally beautiful species. From comments on PT it seems that the perfect microenvironment is needed to grow this in California and Florida. It thrives in Hawaii where you can count on them to develop a distinctive swollen base.

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Rick Kelley

Edge of the Archontophoenix forest.

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A quartet of Pigafetta that are probably close to 100 ft (30m) tall. The crowns of fronds are quite large. They only look tiny because they are so high.

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Not far behind is a trio of Veitchia joannis that are maybe 80 ft (25m) high.

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Dan Lutkenhouse Sr. apparently loved Licuala grandis more than just about anything else. Dozens are growing in the garden. They resemble Sabinaria but without the slit dividing the circular fronds. I didn't see many other Licuala species in the collection.

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Another unlabeled Licuala.

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Kerridoxa elegans is about 12 ft (4 m) tall.

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I think this is a Corypha. The fronds are about 8-10 ft (3 m) in diameter. It is planted away from the trail, so it hard to get a clear photo.

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Rick Kelley

Maybe Areca catechu alba

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Orange Areca vesteria. These are pretty high. Used a telephoto lens to get a closeup.

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Red Areca vesteria

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Cyrtostachys renda. Again, these are on the tall side. Camera is pointing up.

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A recently added Neoveitchia storckii

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A group of Normanbya normanbyi

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A small Johannesteijsmannia altrifons

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Rick Kelley

I’ll go off topic a bit to show that just like in a real tropical rainforest, HTBG contains many huge hardwoods that provide a massive canopy 100+ ft (30 m) high. The photos cannot capture the size of these trees, but I’d estimate that they are all 100-120 ft tall. Maybe more.

Ceiba pentandra (Kapok) This tree develops enormous buttress roots to support its massive size. This tree was planted around 1990 and after 30 years the trunk is about 4 ft in diameter and 100+ ft tall. The third photo was lifted off the web to show how big they get in habitat. 

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Schizolobium parahyba (Bacurubu). This also started around 1990 and is enormous. It likewise produces buttress roots to keep it from toppling over. I think I just missed it blooming. It drops its leaves, then brilliant yellow-orange flowers open for a week or two, then the new leaves come out.

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Mango. These are just frighteningly huge trees. Super fast growers. William Merwin planted mangos on his barren property to establish a bit of shade when he started his reclamation project in Maui. Several decades later the huge mangos shaded everything to such a degree that the palms were stunted. At great expense, the mango trees were removed from the forest allowing the palms to take off.

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I have no idea which species of ficus this is, but it is enormous.

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Rick Kelley

I’ll close with some companion plantings.

Ravenala madagascariensis, Travelers (not really a) palm with a large tree fern.

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The very tall (40-50 ft) tree ferns give the whole place the feel of dinosaur habitat. Very few places in the developed world can grow these. Non-native tree ferns are controversial in Hawaii because of their potential to escape cultivation and become invasive weeds. But I love them.

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HTBG has a large collection of rare heliconias. Not many were blooming on this visit, but they are often spectacular. 

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So on your next visit to the Big Island, be sure to see HTBG for yourself. Maybe you will catch a sunny day.

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palmfriend

Beautiful!

I enjoyed every image and the provided background information, too!

Thank you very much!

best regards from Okinawa - 

Lars

 

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Palmensammler

Wonderful pictures. Thanks for showing.

Eckhard

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Palm Tree Jim

Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Missi

Thanks so much for sharing! It's a shame they prohibit people from collecting fallen fruit, if they're just going to let it sit there and rot or be eaten by rats. :bummed:

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Kris

Beautiful coverage and lovely mature palms..

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Darold Petty

Rick, there are few Dypsis because this genus has on;ly been popular and readily available for approximately 20 years.  Don Carlsmith had his palm, it was originally just called 'Stumpy'.

Thanks for posting !

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John hovancsek

My mom and I went Wednesday. Here is a pic with us to show scale to the anthurium. I am so glad this place is now open. Hit me up Rick next time you go, this place never gets old

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John hovancsek

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Mangosteen

Great photos, thank you! The garden is literally walking distance to my home in Pepeekeo, but I've never been inside.  Admission seemed a bit high. Learned they have a flowering size Phenakospermum guyannense, so maybe one of these days.

 

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bar

Thanks for sharing!  I just love that place.  I've been there two or three times.  If only I could make my Sacramento backyard look as lush.  I'm trying!

 

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jimmyt

@Rick Kelley thanks for the post and pictures!  What a wonderful garden!  Put that one on the bucket list! :rolleyes:

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96720

Seem like they could sell seeds and help with upkeep. Beautiful garden!!!

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Rick Kelley
1 hour ago, 96720 said:

Seem like they could sell seeds and help with upkeep. Beautiful garden!!!

They are a tax exempt 501(C)3 organization. I don't know how that might limit what they can do commercially. All tax exempt organizations do fundraising, but the rules may be a little complicated. In the past, the head gardener would sometimes trade plants with local folks growing unusual species, but I don't think any cash was involved.

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Kim

This is one of my favorite places on the island, for sure! I last visited the day before they closed because of the pandemic. Thanks for all the great photos. As good as they are, nothing can really capture the feeling of walking through the gardens. It's just magical.

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Gonzer

Thanks for the pictorial tour, great stuff.

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Justin

The Metroxylons there (about halfway down the steep hillside) are incredible.  I either never saw the Ceiba before, or didn't appreciate it.  I planted a couple Ceibas on my property in Leilani a couple years ago, and they're doing well, but I don't think they'll be anywhere near that big in 25 years.  I planted each of them about 400 feet from my house, so no risks of them falling on the house! ;-)

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