by Joana Varawa
photo by Steve Brinkman
Downtown Kahului might be the last place you’d expect to find a thriving garden of all-too-rare native Hawaiian plants, but that’s exactly what exists at Keopuolani Park’s Maui Nui Botanical Garden. This peaceful garden is designed to foster an appreciation for the plant life and living culture of the islands of Maui Nui: Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.
Lisa Shattenberg carries
a bundle of ko
"Coming here is a lot easier than slogging through a bog or scaling a cliff," says Lisa Shattenberg, director of the Maui Nui. "These plants are rarely seen at other botanical gardens, which collect exotic imports."
The garden also includes food and fiber plants brought by early Polynesian settlers. Wandering tree-shaded paths, you’ll find rare bananas, like the mai‘a koa‘e, with its stunning green-and-white striped fruit and leaves; shrubby hau (hibiscus) trees, the inner bark fibers of which were used to make cordage; medicinal noni; fifteen ‘uala (sweet potato) varieties; forty different ko (sugar cane) varieties; and fragrant native gardenias. ‘Ulu (breadfruit) hangs heavily from the trees during its season. Says Janet Allen, president of the board, "These plants are the Hawaiian culture. And they are beautiful."
The garden hosts lectures and demonstrations by revered Hawaiian elders and experts (for example, a Hawaiian tea tasting workshop), an annual Earth Day celebration, an Arbor Day tree giveaway, and plant sales, the first of which in 2005 will take place January 22. And the work doesn’t all happen on-site: Members of the non-profit also trudge through remote landscapes replanting native plants and bucking out invasive species that can overwhelm the non-competitive natives.
Maui Nui Botanical Garden