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.”
En route to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, the palms and ferns lining Old Mamalahoa Highway get you in the mood.
Ryan (foreground) and his BFF John lead the way to the garden’s epic collections.
Heliconia longissima ‘Red Wings’ creates a spectacle early in the tour.
The oddly sculptural rose of Siam (Etlingera corneri) in a bed of Selaginella.
Rose of Siam (Etlingera corneri).
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.
Say hello to Ixora, in radiant bloom. In Florida this plant is known as West Indian jasmine.
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.
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!
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.
Cat’s whiskers or Java tea (Orthosiphon aristatus var. aristatus).
Costus lucanusianus, native to West Africa and often used for medicinal purposes.
Heliconia bihai x caribaea ‘Criswick.’
Hedychium stenopetalum ‘Giant White Thai.’
We love the exuberant crown-shape of this Aglaomorpha coronans, or Santa Rosa fern.
This isn’t your librarian’s pothos. Scindapsus pictus (satin pothos or silver vine) is known for its elegant splotching.
We believe this is a basket fern, or Drynaria.
Pritchardia pacifica, or Fiji fan palm.
Hello, old friend! We were excited to see a lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) in the wild.
We have an Aeschynanthus radicans in pink.
Guzmania ‘Kapoho Fire.’
White bat plant (Tacca integrifolia). Those “whiskers” you see are the bracts of this large, strange flower.
Whoa Nelly, get a load of this Anthurium!
Now let’s walk the Palm Jungle Trail…
Excellent landscape inspo: Starry Spike Moss (Selaginella stellata).
Starry Spike Moss (Selaginella stellata).
Starry Spike Moss (Selaginella stellata).
Heliconia lingulata ‘Fan.’ This baby can get up to 10 feet tall.
Another standout ginger: Alpinia purpurata ‘Jungle Queen.’
More gingers! Here’s a collection of red wax ginger (Tapeinochilos ananassae).
An assortment of chandelier plants (Medinilla).
Local sculptor Rocky Vargas carved this statue of Hawaiian God Ku in 2011.
Alpinia purpurata c.v. Tahitian Ginger double.
Alpinia purpurata c.v. Tahitian Ginger double. Ginger flowers the size of volleyballs!
Couroupita guianensis aka the cannonball tree, so named for its fruit that grows directly from the bark!
The cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis) is native to Central and South America.
Couroupita guianensis aka the cannonball tree.
A blossom on the cannonball tree. The flowers produce no nectar, but pollinators clamor for the plant’s pollen.
The orchid garden.
Bromeliad Hill. Prominent are the pink pineapple plants, Ananas nanus.
On Bromeliad Hill, we found this grand Neoregalia.
Peace lily plant (Spathiphyllum).
Calathea. Who can resist those painted leaves?
Anthurium warocqueanum, or queen anthurium.
Anthurium warocqueanum or queen anthurium. Ryan’s figuring out how to make space in the garden for this special species.
The descent to the ocean continues…
The walk suddenly hits you with a whopper of a view. Pacific Ocean, waves, palms, and rugged coastline.
An ancient burial site overlooks the water.
The main trail loops back around away from the ocean and back up the hill.
Money tree, or red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata).
Getting fancy under the chandelier plant (Medinilla).
Another Tahitian ginger dangles at the foot of this Bacurubu tree.
The Calathea Trail.
Climbing up the tree is a Monstera tenuis vine…
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.
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.)
We ended up grabbing a delicious lunch and perfectly ripe papaya at Low Store, family owned and operated since 1925.
Low Store’s droolrific menu.
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.