Thursday, August 29, 2013

Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, part 1

The last garden I visited during our Maui vacation was Maui Nui Botanical Gardens (MNBG)located in Kahului, Maui’s largest town.

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Driving in Kahului

The previous gardens I’d explored (Garden of Eden Arboretum, Tropical Gardens of Maui, and Kula Botanical Garden) were privately owned and focused on creating idealized slices of tropical flora. In contrast, MNBG is a non-profit organization “dedicated to the protection of Maui Nui’s rich native plants and cultural heritage.” (In prehistory, Maui Nui was a larger island that 200,000 years ago split off into modern-day Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe.)

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Maui Nui Botanical Gardens entrance on Kanaloa Avenue

As such, MNGB focuses more on ethnobotany than on ornamental horticulture. This became obvious to me as soon as I stepped through the gate. While the garden is certainly attractive in its own way, it lacks the easy wow moments the other gardens had. On the other hand, this is the place to visit if you want to learn more about plants endemic to Maui and its neighboring islands and those brought by Polynesian settlers in their canoes, many of them vital to their survival.

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Maui Nui Botanical Gardens interpretive sign

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Maui Nui Botanical Gardens interpretive sign

Right near the entrance I spotted this pot of Colocasia esculenta ‘Elepaio’, my favorite elephant ear. I think the mottling is just beautiful. I had one that made it through several winters but this year it didn’t come back. Time to look for another specimen!

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Variegated taro (Colocasia esculenta ‘Elepaio’)

Hala, or Hawaiian screwpine (Pandanus tectorius), is a tree that had multiple uses. The leaves were made into floor mats and sails for canoes; the male flowers were used as an aphrodisiac. I think it’s a striking tree with strappy leaves, pineapple-like fruit, and tell-tale prop roots.

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Hawaiian screwpine (Pandanus tectorius)

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Hawaiian screwpine (Pandanus tectorius)

The most beautiful tree at MNBG was the breadfruit tree (Artocarpus altilis). I was so enamored that I took tons of photos so please bear with me. The leaves are so unique, I simply couldn’t get enough.

Called ‘ulu in Hawaiian, the breadfruit tree was a staple in the ancient Hawaiian culture. The trunk was made into drums and surfboards, and the starchy fruit was cooked and eaten as porridge (very similar to the poi made of taro roots).

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Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

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Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

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Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

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Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

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Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

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Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

Another important plant was the banana, called mai’a in Hawaiian. It not only served as a food source but its leaves were used for a number of different purposes, including cooking and religious ceremonies. Many different varieties of bananas exist; I was thrilled that MNBG had one of the most beautiful of them all, the variegated ‘Ae Ae’. This variety is very rare and much sought after by collectors.

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Variegated banana (Musa × paradisiaca 'Ae Ae’)

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Variegated banana (Musa × paradisiaca 'Ae Ae’)

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Variegated banana (Musa × paradisiaca 'Ae Ae’)

Whenever I happen to find myself in the vitamin and supplement section of Costco, I see bottles of noni juice. Apparently it’s a controversial nutraceutical that some claim shrinks tumors. Be that as it may, I’d never seen noni (Morinda citrifolia) before this trip and I’m pleased to report that it’s quite an attractive tree. The ancient Hawaiians used noni to kill head lice, among other things. The fruit smells and tastes unpleasant when ripe but it was eaten when times were tough.

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Noni (Morinda citrifolia)

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Noni (Morinda citrifolia)

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Noni (Morinda citrifolia)

Haua or sea hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum) has delicate flowers which only last a day. They are a delicate yellow when they first open in the morning and turn to a dull pink orange before they close in the afternoon. The petals fall off that same evening or overnight.

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Sea hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum)

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Sea hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum)

Here are some other plants of interest:

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Pua ʻala (Brighamia rockii), endemic to the island of Molokaʻi. It’s a close relative of the critically endangered Brighamia insignis.

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Pua ʻala (Brighamia rockii)

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Pua kala or Hawaiian prickly poppy (Argemone glauca)

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Pua kala or Hawaiian prickly poppy (Argemone glauca)

Adjacent to MNBG I came across what must be their nursery. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anybody I could have asked about it. (Aside from a woman with a small child I was the only visitor.)

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Maui Nui Botanical Gardens nursery

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Maui Nui Botanical Gardens nursery

In part 2 (coming soon) I will show you lots of taro (elephant ears), sugar cane, and a traditional Hawaiian hale.

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6 comments:

  1. I'm glad you visited, as it's nice to see what's native -- I tend to think that everything tropical is from Hawaii. :)

    Love the breadfruit trees! Also, those tattered banana leaves are what prevented me from growing them until just a few years ago. So ugly!

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    1. The contrast between the other (private) botanical gardens and Maui Nui Botanical Gardens was almost shocking. It became clear to me that the majority of the colorful or flowering exotic plants we associate with Hawaii are actually from elsewhere. The native vegetation isn't very colorful or exotic looking.

      I'm with you re the tattered looks of bananas. I think that's why many landscapers appear to prefer giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) or heliconias; their leaves are thicker and don't shred as easily.

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  2. Thank you for not skimping on photos of the Artocarpus altilis...WOW! If only I could grow them here in Portland...

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    1. I'd love to grow one, too. Alas, it's strictly a zone 11 (!) plant. No temps below 40°F. Needs humidity, too.

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  3. Just to echo what Loree has just said, such a stunning plant. If only...

    We got hold of an Ae Ae once and found it far too tender for our location even when overwintered indoors (which we did and it still perished, and similar experience with a few others). A stunning banana nevertheless.

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    1. That Ae Ae wasn't a great specimen because of the tattered and partially burned leaves but it was the first one I'd ever seen in person. And the potential is definitely there. In a conservatory, protected from the wind, it would be a stunner.

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