Our visit to the Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Garden this weekend got off to a startling start when a big black creature jumped across our path and into the bushes, sending a couple of finches in flight. The lauae fern shook this way and that on the windless Saturday morning before the creature revealed itself once more; this time, more subtly. Out came a sweet old dog, gently wagging her tail and leading into sight with a lowered head (better known as the “PET ME!” pose). So we did, right before she darted off after something else in the distance.The four-legged garden keeper has a lot of land to keep an eye on.
Turns out, the cute little lady is the unofficial mascot of the Arboretum; she lives there with one of the caretakers and roams around greeting visitors, often with a slobbery tongue. It doesn’t get more secluded than the Lyon Arboretum, nestled at the back of Manoa Valley. When you walk in, you’re surrounded by nothing but hues of green and trees and shrubs and ferns and flowers and ahhh, it’s just a wonderful retreat that everyone should experience. I grew up on the island and only just discovered this hidden gem, pretty much right in my neighborhood.
As the only university botanical garden in the U.S. located in a tropical rainforest, the Arboretum offers nearly 200 acres of land to explore. On that land, a collection of more than 5,000 tropical plant species can be found as part of an active research facility and academic resource. Heliconias, gingers, palms, bromeliads and native Hawaiian plants decorate the eight themed gardens established when the Arboretum opened to the public in 1972. VIDEO: A peaceful stroll through the Arboretum. Did you spot the four-legged garden keeper?
We stumbled upon the Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden and saw a lot of familiar native Hawaiian plants, such as kalo, canoe plants brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians and medicinal plants. Ethnobotany shows the relationships between people and plants in a given area, so it was interesting to compare what Hawaiians did in the past to what we’re doing in the present. Many of these native plants are still looked to for healing purposes today.
Speaking of the present-day and all its glorious technological perks, most of the plants have QR codes included on their nameplates. A quick scan with the QR smartphone app gives visitors an endless amount of information at the tip of their fingers. If you don’t have a smartphone, then you can take a “cell tour” by calling the number provided on the nameplate.(Top) A budding beauty of Manoa. (Bottom) Hala, a canoe plant, can be used to make woven mats, baskets, thatched roofs and canoe sails. And check out the snazzy QR code!
The most memorable part had to be sitting on a bench in the middle of the Arboretum, where you could take in a panoramic view of the valley. I wondered if die-hard hikers have ever ventured to the top of the steep peaks that border Manoa and Palolo. Meanwhile, a thrush in the nearby trees striked up a conversation with a group across the way. I sat there imagining a time when all of Hawaii once looked and sounded so raw and uncut; when life had been simplified to a state so natural that it sung a song as beautiful as this, everyday.
LYON ARBORETUM AND BOTANICAL GARDEN • 3860 Manoa Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822 • Opens Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat 9am-3pm • $5 donation, per person • 808-988-0456 • Available parking; Near bus route