There’s a reason they call Kauai the garden island.
There are all varieties of plants I’ve never seen and whose names I can’t pronounce. They also happen to be very rare—endangered, in fact.
Welcome to the National Tropical Botanical Garden on the island of Kauai.
It turns out that of all the endangered species of plants in the United States, two thirds are from Hawaii, and this research effort is designed to help these plants once again flourish.
Kauai was so isolated and had so many microclimates it seems that there were many unique plants growing here.
Our guide, Neil Brosnahan, ushers us into the “plant nursery” where some 10,000 plants are being nurtured including one (Cyanea Asarifolia) that only grows on one place on this island. Amazing! Volunteers meticulously transplant pots, weed, prune, and do whatever is needed so these plants can once again flourish. Some 6,000 plants have been transplanted all over the island. It is a long process. Some plants may only grow 18 inches in five years.
(If you have a hankering to volunteer and love to garden, the nearby Hanalei Colony Resort, a popular beachfront retreat on Kauai’s north shore, partners with the nearby botanical garden to offer a Beach and Botany package combining tropical vacation fun (kayaking and massage) with volunteer opportunities (two four-hour sessions) at the 1,000-acre Limahuli Garden and Preserve, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden network and set in a tropical valley.)
Kauai has long been called the garden isle because it has such lush plants and is so green. You can visit McBryde Garden, dropping down to the valley floor. The land was once used to grow sugar cane. With an initial purchase of 171 acres, the non-profit National Tropical Botanical Garden started the first of its five gardens for research, conservation, and education.
McBryde contains plant species that are extinct in the wild. Now there is a network of diverse gardens and preserves in Hawaii as well as Florida where research continues. You can visit the labs where scientists are still working on these plants and even take a trip back to ancient Hawaii in the Canoe Garden. The beach is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and on the day we visit, volunteers are searching for a sea turtle nest to help the hatchlings reach the sea. My girls pitch in to help but the nest isn’t found.
There is also the Allerton Garden, once a retreat for Hawaii’s Queen Emma, where you will see her favorite bougainvillea. The kids will love the seemingly ancient “Jurassic Park” trees.
Back to the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club where we are staying, we see some of the same plants nurtured at the research center in the gardens here.
The thing about Kauai is there are so many different things to do—like visiting these gardens, hiking any variety of trails, kayaking, snorkeling, zip lining, or simply lazing at a resort like the Marriott where we can take our pick of the largest single-level pool in the entire state or a sheltered lagoon. General Manager Brad Snyder tells me that summer is family season with West Coast families coming for fun in the sun.
“Everyone has their own favorite island,” he explains. “The culture and the people here are what make Hawaii unique,” Snyder says. “The more we can educate the visitors to the Hawaiian experience and the more they feel connected….you’ve got to slow down and appreciate the land, the ocean, the environment…that is the true Hawaiiana. Be kind to one another is what aloha is about…it takes a few days to wind down and start enjoying,” he said.