While you see plenty of tropical vegetation in resorts and private residences all over Maui, the best places to fully immerse yourself are private botanical gardens. I already wrote about the Garden of Eden Arboretum on the Hāna Highway (1 2). This post is about Tropical Gardens of Maui, a 4-acre botanical garden in the ʻĪao Valley in Central Maui.
My wife and I stopped at Tropical Gardens of Maui after visiting ʻĪao Valley State Monument and enjoying stunning views of the ʻĪao Needle, one of Maui’s signature sights. Since Tropical Gardens of Maui is located on the one and only road going to the park, I thought it would be busy but it clearly isn’t a major destination for visiting tourists. Sadly, the parking lot was empty except for one other car.
From their website I know that Tropical Gardens of Maui has been around for 25 years. They have over 10,000 square feet of growing area but the small retail nursery at the entrance was sadly understocked. The selection was small, mostly orchids, palm seedlings, a few gingers, etc.—much more limited than what I had hoped for. I’d been wanting to buy some plants and have them shipped home but I didn’t find anything I had to have.
The somewhat neglected state of the nursery and the gift shop, coupled with the listless behavior of the man taking our $5 admission (the owner?), left us feeling vaguely depressed—and that was before we’d even set foot in the botanical garden.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to fall under the spell of the plants. Yes, the infrastructure has seen better days and much needs fixing and updating. However, after a short while I didn’t even see the shortcomings anymore, I was so focused on the amazing flora all around me. Take a look the photos below, and you’ll understand.
Torch ginger (Etlingera elatior)
Torch ginger (Etlingera elatior)
Lobster claw (Heliconia bihai)
Hanging lobster claw (Heliconia rostrata)
LEFT: Heliconia rostrata
RIGHT: Unknown shrub
Beehive ginger (Zingiber spectabile)
Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum)
While most of plants are from tropical regions of the world that see fairly high rainfall, one small section showcases desert dwellers like cactus, agave and even a nice trunked specimen of Yucca rostrata.
A 10-ft. tall cactus surrounded by ti plants and tropical palms truly was an odd sight. The Yucca rostrata fit in better visually but considering it comes from a very dry environment, I was surprised that is able to handle what must be many times the amount of water it would get in its native habitat.
Yucca rostrata next to a bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis)
I even found a nice-sized clump of Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’), feeling right at home amidst the palm trees and screwpines (Pandanus tectorius).
Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’)
Speaking of screwpines (called “hala” in Hawaiian), the specimen in the next photo had particularly impressive prop roots. Nestled on top of the prop roots was a bromeliad...
Screwpine (Pandanus tectorius)
…and many more bromeliads were scattered all over the garden. I wish I know more about them but I’m a complete novice (and unfortunately, the labeling was very incomplete). But I loved their dramatic leaf shapes…
Some had a miniature pond in the center of the rosette.
When I saw the bromeliad in the next photo, I initially thought the four red fruits were olives…
…but then I looked up and realized they came from this palm tree.
As little as I know about bromeliads, I know even less about orchids. Every time I saw one attached to the trunk of a tree, I did a double-take.
This is not something I would ever encounter at home!
While Tropical Gardens of Maui doesn’t have the extensive taro patches I was hoping for, I did find this clump of Alocasia macrorrhiza.
While Tropical Gardens of Maui didn’t quite live up to its full potential, I ultimately was glad we had stopped.
The admission price of $5 is arguably one of the biggest bargains on Maui, at least for plant lovers.