Magazine article Sunset

Just North of Hilo, a Tropical Garden Invites Strolling

Magazine article Sunset

Just North of Hilo, a Tropical Garden Invites Strolling

Article excerpt

Nestled in the lush Onomea Valley on the Hamakua Coast 7 miles north of Hilo, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden--opened last July--can be a fascinating side trip for Big Island visitors.

Spreading over 17 acres on the edge of Onomea Bay, the garden is home to a diverse collection of tropical plants, including 41 kinds of ginger, more than 80 species of palms, 19 species of anthuriums, 94 species of bromeliads, 26 species of heliconias, and such tropical mainstays as breadfruit, kukui nut, coffee trees, and banana plants.

A stroll the 1-1/2-mile palm-shaded trail through the 5 acres currently landscaped can turn up such surprises as brilliant torch ginger blooming below betelnut palms or rare blue-skinned bananas.

The garden was established by Dan Lutkenhouse, a transplanted Californian with two goals in mind: to preserve the natural beauty of Onomea Valley and to provide a sanctuary for rare and endangered tropical plants, birds, and marine life. Hawaiian hawks are already at home here, and giant sea turtles often feed close to shore.

With the help of friends, Lutkenhouse hand-cleared paths in the jungle, dug a small lake with a pick and shovel, and built bridges from wooden planks salvaged from an abandoned sugar mill.

He also bought and restored an abandoned turn-of-the-century church about 1/4 mile south of the garden to serve as garden headquarters and house the Onomea Museum (you'll see historic photographs of Onomea Valley, and old calabashes and human-hair necklaces).

Many of the plants were scrounged from back-yard gardens, including mature palms about to be destroyed by construction near Hilo, and bromeliads and rare plants donated by local collectors. Lutkenhouse brought other plants from nurseries and arboretums on Oahu and elsewhere in the Pacific Basin; all are interspersed throughout the tropical forests of palms, banana plants, giant mango trees, and pandanus trees. …

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