Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, part 1 of 2

One of the most beautiful places we visited on the island of Hawaii this summer was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (HTBG).


Located on a 17-acre site above Onomea Bay about 10 miles north of Hilo, the HTBG was created by Dan Lutkenhouse and his wife Pauline. They purchased the parcel in 1977 after having having spotted it during a vacation. Soon after, the Lutkenhouses sold their trucking business in San Francisco and moved to Hawaiii to fulfilll their vision: a botanical garden that would preserve the beauty of Onomea Valley forever.


For eight years, Dan Lutkenhouse, his assistant and two helpers worked on clearing what originally was impenetrable jungle, building trails, and laying the foundation for the garden you see today. The HTBG opened to the public in 1984 and was donated by the Lutkenhouses to a non-profit trust they established in 1995. Dan Lutkenhouse died in 2007 at age 85; Pauline continues to be active as the president of the Garden’s foundation. (To read more about the history of the garden, click here.)


The parking lot and visitor center are high above the ocean.


The entrance to the garden proper is across the street. The trail quickly descends on a wooden boardwalk that follows the narrow ravine of Kakali Stream.


Boardwalk winding down the narrow ravine of Kahalii Stream

As you can see from my photos, this is the kind of place that can drive a plant lover crazy. There is so much to see, you don’t know where to begin! Fortunately, I went twice: once by myself, and once with my family. This gave me the opportunity to take photos I’d missed the first time around. Still, I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. How wonderful it must be to live nearby and be able to volunteer!

Instead of giving you a running commentary about the various trails in the garden (frankly, I’ve already forgotten a lot of the details), I’ll simply let my pictures speak for themselves. After all, the HTBG—just like my blog—is all about the plants. (By the way, the HTBG has a great plant database that proved invaluable for this post: http://www.htbg.com/search.php.)


Bambusa beecheyana growing along the boardwalk


Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi)


Pelagodoxa henryana, a rare and endangered palm from the Marquesas Islands. The HTBG is home to nearly 200 different palm species, virtually all of them unknown to me.


Lobster claw (Heliconia bihai)


Lobster claw (Heliconia bihai)


Beehive ginger (Zingiber spectabile)


Beehive ginger (Zingiber spectabile)


Rose of Siam (Etlingera corneri)


Variegated ginger (Alpinia sanderae)

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Variegated ginger (Alpinia sanderae)


Pagoda plant (Clerodendrum paniculatum)


Pagoda plant (Clerodendrum paniculatum)


Pagoda plant (Clerodendrum paniculatum)


Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa ‘Lilinoe’)


Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa ‘Lilinoe’)

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LEFT: Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa)  RIGHT: Heliconia leaves


Cordyline fruticosa ‘Chocolate Queen’


Unlabeled Cordyline fruticosa cultivar

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Philodendron sp. (left) and Scindapsus pictus (right)

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Green anole. This little guy was our faithful companion wherever we went on the island. (Well, not this particular lizard, but you know what I mean.)


I have no idea if this is natural or man-made. It looks like an assortment of real fern leaves!

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Rose grape (Medinilla magnifica), also known as the Philippine orchid

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Regal anthurium (Anthurium regale)


I love the air roots coming off the trunk of this palm tree

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Jungle vista. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was humid. Yes, there were mosquitoes. But every mosquito bite I got, in spite of a liberal application of insect repellent, was so worth it.


Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus)

We are now at the bottom of the boardwalk and are approaching Onomea Falls. Part 2 of this post picks up from there.



Hawaii 2014 trip index


  1. Oh my! Someday, someday my time will come and I will visit this botanical wonderland! In the mean time thank you for yet another look at what I'm missing.

    1. You will. If anything, this garden will become even more beautiful as the plants continue to grow.

  2. Botanical garden or paradise? Both! We'll get there one day...

  3. Wow!! this is wonderful, awesome!!

  4. Wow!!!!!! Spectacular picture of the gardens. Great collection of pictures. Thank you for sharing

  5. Hubby and I were just there last week, it’s absolutely beautiful, love looking at the beehive gingers.


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