Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Heliconia Ride: A Visit to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Photos By Ryan Benoit

Black lava rocks lying beside bands of turquoise water are right up our (#beachgoth-loving) alley, but after a few days of beach hopping in Kona, we wanted to feel a bit more…ensconced in greenery. We wanted to get LUSH.

So we headed to the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, over to Onomea Bay and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. (After all, a Horticult trip wouldn’t be a Horticult trip without a visit to a botanical garden! Are we right, or are we right?) Eight and a half miles north of Hilo, the garden/plant museum is nestled in a 40-acre valley that, according to the literature, “is a natural greenhouse, protected from buffeting tradewinds and blessed with fertile volcanic soil.”

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

En route to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, the palms and ferns lining Old Mamalahoa Highway get you in the mood.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Ryan (foreground) and his BFF John lead the way to the garden’s epic collections.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Heliconia longissima ‘Red Wings’ creates a spectacle early in the tour.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

The oddly sculptural rose of Siam (Etlingera corneri) in a bed of Selaginella.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Rose of Siam (Etlingera corneri).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

This ginger is off to meet her match! In the garden’s rainforest, we crossed under canopies and over streams to see neon bromeliads, mega anthuriums, and of course a great variety of Zingiber.

Visitors experience the garden in a truly organic way, descending into the valley on nature trails that wind through a rainforest, transport you to enchanting plant collections — like “Bromeliad Hill” — past waterfalls and creeks, until you’re shocked by a sudden vista of the Pacific Ocean framed by palm trees. “Dramatic” doesn’t even begin to express the effect of following vines and massive anthurium leaves along your path and then looking up and seeing the jagged, primordial Pacific Coast and hearing the sudden roar of the waves.

It was enough to make us drop our umbrellas! Thoughtfully loaned out by the garden to its visitors, the umbrellas came in handy for a few brief drizzles, but for the most part we stayed dry enough to appreciate the garden’s colossal show of plant life along the one-mile round-trip loop.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Say hello to Ixora, in radiant bloom. In Florida this plant is known as West Indian jasmine.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Beehive ginger (Zingiber spectabile). The pine cone-shaped formations you see are actually the plant’s bracts (modified leaves); the blossoms are modest white flowers that grow among the bracts.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

A toothy Heliconia colgantea beams for the camera.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is home to over 2,000 species of plants from over 125 families and 750 genera, evident in the wide spectrum of ginger flowers that thrilled us, oversize heliconias with attitude to match, outrageous cannonball trees, and anthurium leaves the size of Fiats. And orchids, of course. Cat’s whiskers and bat flowers struck exactly the right balance of tickly and peculiar.

HTBG is a must-see for any plant lover on the Big Island. Join us — Ryan, our friend John and me — on our visit below! You might also notice certain houseplants, from dracaena to monstera to zamioculcas, letting their hair down in the wild. Inside this garden, the plants reach a whole new level of perfection.

Check them out!

—TH

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Cat’s whiskers or Java tea (Orthosiphon aristatus var. aristatus). This summer bloomer is a member of the mint family, a fast grower that’s easy to propagate.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Cat’s whiskers or Java tea (Orthosiphon aristatus var. aristatus).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Costus lucanusianus, native to West Africa and often used for medicinal purposes.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Heliconia bihai x caribaea ‘Criswick.’

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hedychium stenopetalum ‘Giant White Thai.’

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

We love the exuberant crown-shape of this Aglaomorpha coronans, or Santa Rosa fern.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

This isn’t your librarian’s pothos. Scindapsus pictus (satin pothos or silver vine) is known for its elegant splotching.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

We believe this is a basket fern, or Drynaria.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Pritchardia pacifica, or Fiji fan palm.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hello, old friend! We were excited to see a lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) in the wild.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

We have an Aeschynanthus radicans in pink.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Guzmania ‘Kapoho Fire.’

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Vriesea ‘Ella.’

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

White bat plant (Tacca integrifolia). Those “whiskers” you see are the bracts of this large, strange flower.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Whoa Nelly, get a load of this Anthurium!

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Big love.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Now let’s walk the Palm Jungle Trail…

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Excellent landscape inspo: Starry Spike Moss (Selaginella stellata).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Starry Spike Moss (Selaginella stellata).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Starry Spike Moss (Selaginella stellata).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Onomea Falls.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Heliconia lingulata ‘Fan.’ This baby can get up to 10 feet tall.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Another standout ginger: Alpinia purpurata ‘Jungle Queen.’

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

More gingers! Here’s a collection of red wax ginger (Tapeinochilos ananassae).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Tapeinochilos ananassae.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

An assortment of chandelier plants (Medinilla).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Medinilla cummingii.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Local sculptor Rocky Vargas carved this statue of Hawaiian God Ku in 2011.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Alpinia purpurata c.v. Tahitian Ginger double.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Alpinia purpurata c.v. Tahitian Ginger double.  Ginger flowers the size of volleyballs!

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Couroupita guianensis aka the cannonball tree, so named for its fruit that grows directly from the bark!

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

The cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis) is native to Central and South America.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Couroupita guianensis aka the cannonball tree.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

A blossom on the cannonball tree. The flowers produce no nectar, but pollinators clamor for the plant’s pollen.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

The orchid garden.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Bromeliad Hill. Prominent are the pink pineapple plants, Ananas nanus.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

On Bromeliad Hill, we found this grand Neoregalia.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Erythrina crista-galli.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Peace lily plant (Spathiphyllum).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

We’re freakishly fascinated by the way public gardens do WCs.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Calathea. Who can resist those painted leaves?

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Anthurium warocqueanum, or queen anthurium.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Anthurium warocqueanum or queen anthurium. Ryan’s figuring out how to make space in the garden for this special species.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

The descent to the ocean continues…

 

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

The walk suddenly hits you with a whopper of a view. Pacific Ocean, waves, palms, and rugged coastline.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

An ancient burial site overlooks the water.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

The main trail loops back around away from the ocean and back up the hill.

 

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Money tree, or red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Boulder Creek.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Getting fancy under the chandelier plant (Medinilla).

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Jackpot…

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Zamioculcas zamifolia

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Another Tahitian ginger dangles at the foot of this Bacurubu tree.

 

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

The Calathea Trail.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Monster-sized ferns.

 

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Climbing up the tree is a Monstera tenuis vine…

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

But don’t let the compact young leaves of this Monstera tenuis fool you — juvenile leaves in this species are wildly different from the huge, holey foliage of the adult plants visible at the top of these stems.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

After the botanical garden, we were hungry! So we headed to nearby restaurant What’s Shakin’? (What was shakin’? We actually have no idea; the wait here was too long.)

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

What’s Shakin.’

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

We ended up grabbing a delicious lunch and perfectly ripe papaya at Low Store, family owned and operated since 1925.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Low Store’s droolrific menu.

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden Tour

Bromeliads and a song of India plant growing from a stump on the side of the road made this garden adventure complete.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, 27-717 Old Mamalahoa Highway, 808-964-5233. Open 9am–5pm every day except New Year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, when admission ends at 4pm. 

  • emily barefot

    I’ve been anxiously waiting for this post after I saw some hints on Instagram. Love it. I lived in Hilo for the better part of 2010. I had a season pass to the botanical garden and it was heaven on earth. I appreciate the chance to remininse.

    • Emily! A season pass — that does sound divine! Glad we could stoke some tropical memories…