Hawaii's Wild Gardens

By Brenzel, Kathleen Norris | Sunset, January 1992 | Go to article overview

Hawaii's Wild Gardens


Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Sunset


WILD GARDENS, PLANTED BY NATURE on wild lands or by scientists in jungly botanical gardens, reveal Hawaii's tropical plant treasures in inspirational surroundings for hikers, photographers, and nature lovers.

But they also offer a glimpse of the state's most rapidly dwindling resource: its unique and diverse native plants. Invaded by introduced animals and weeds, and by development, these living links to Hawaii's ancient past are disappearing. Their preservation has emerged as one of the most pressing environmental issues of the '90s, both in and beyond the Islands.

On the following pages, you can read about Hawaii's native plant communities and what's being done to save them--from establishment of protected reserves to hand-pollination of plants by scientists who must rappel down cliff faces to reach them.

We suggest wild gardens to visit for a look at plants from Hawaii (and elsewhere in the tropical world)--all amid spectacular settings.

Scientists have found that the best way to save rate plants is to save the habitats that shaped them. And in Hawaii, many organizations are trying to do just that.

The state of Hawaii's Natural Area Reserves System currently protects 19 sites on five islands--more than 109,000 acres of the state's most spectacular lands. And The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii helps protect upward of 48,000 acres of land and manages 11 preserves on five islands. Many protected areas are inaccessible, but some are relatively easy to reach. Here are two for rewarding day trips.

ON OAHU'S WESTERN TIP: KAENA

POINT NATURAL AREA RESERVE

Kaena Point has one of the few coastlines in Hawaii where native plants still flourish. "It's our best example of a successfully recovered native ecosystem," says Dr. Charles Lamoureux, University of Hawaii botanist. But the native plants have prevailed only after struggle: Kaena Point was long used by off-road vehicles that gouged the wind-shaped dunes; it started recovering only after it was closed to vehicles four years ago.

Now these 12 acres of dunes again are home to green naupaka and other native plants, bright green against a backdrop of lofty sea cliffs. Laysan albatross returned last year to nest in thickets along the dunes, and Hawaiian monk seals have been spotted basking on the rocky shoreline. During the winter, humpback whales often ply the waters off the point.

It's a 45-mile drive from Waikiki, then about a 2 1/2-mile walk to the point, where a lighthouse stands. During winter, high surf and strong currents make conditions hazardous, so stay out of the water. Carry drinking water with you, and protect yourself from sun with a hat and sun screen.

To reach Kaena Point's north shore, take Interstates H1 and H2 to Wahiawa, then State Highways 99 and 803 north and State 930 west through Waialua to the highway's end; park here. For the west access, take Interstate H1 to its end at Farrington Highway; go 13 miles northwest to Makaha, then 7 miles to the road's end and a parking area. Lock your car and carry valuables with you. There are no rest rooms inside the reserve; the closest facilities are at Mokuleia and Keawaula (Yokohama Bay) beach parks.

ON MAUI'S HALEAKALA:

WAIKAMOI PRESERVE

This 5,230-acre preserve, straddling a deep ravine on Haleakala's upper slopes, is sanctuary to hundreds of native plants as well as to 12 Hawaiian bird species, including 7 endangered ones.

From the entrance, a 1 1/2-mile trail leads through non-native pines and open shrubland, and then down the ravine's steep side through lush forest. Where the trail levels off, look up: you'll see bronzy 'ama'u (Sadleria) ferns embroidering steep slopes on each side, and 'ohi'a lehua trees rising above them, their canopies often garlanded with tufts of red, brush-like flowers. You might even glimpse a curve-billed 'i'iwi (Hawaiian honeycreeper) flitting through the trees in a flash of brillian red. …

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