By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening
In the middle of Honolulu, Foster Botanical Garden is an oasis from the traffic and tourist destinations. The grounds are available for strolling, botanical tours, picnics, weddings, and enjoying a remarkable collection of plants.
If you go, plan to spend a couple of hours in the garden, followed by a visit to nearby Chinatown and the Kuan Yin Temple next door.
There are 24-registered “Exceptional Trees” in the garden, some standing more than 10-stories tall. They include: Baobab Tree, Cabbage Palm, Cannonball Tree, Earpod Tree and Wiliiwili Trees. The Caribbean Royal Tree is over 150-feet tall.
Among the treasured historic trees at Foster, it is noteworthy that they have a Bo Tree that was grown from a cutting of the Bodhi Tree that Buddha sat under to gain enlightenment.
Our tour guide, Joshlyn Sand, is the horticulturist for all five city of Honolulu botanical gardens. Sands started with the city 23 years ago as a plant propagator, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in horticulture in her native Illinois. After a stint as an intern in Honolulu, she decided to stay.
The five gardens are supported by city funds and the fund-raising activities of the Friends of Honolulu Botanical Gardens (friendsofhonolulubotanicalgardens.com). The native butterfly garden is fully supported and maintained by the Butterfly Society of Hawaii (butterflysocietyofhawaii.org).
“It is un-green to import butterflies,” Sands said. “The society puts in native host plants in an open habitat and there are always plenty of butterflies, skippers and moths to charm visitors.
“The oldest part of the garden was leased to Russian botanist William Hillebrand by Queen Kalama in 1853. During their 20 years on the property, the Hillebrands planted hundreds of the existing trees.”
A gas lamp still stands in an open lawn area called the Main Terrace, where the Hillebrands’ home stood. Captain Thomas and Mary Foster were the next owners and Mary added to the gardens before bequeathing 5.5 acres to the county to be used as a public garden in 1930.
“Mary was a Buddhist and a passionate gardener,” Sands said. “Two of her gardeners were botanists, Joseph Rock and Dr. Harold Lyon.” (Read more about Mary at http://bit.ly/19NkKN2)
Lyon was the director when the gardens opened to the public in 1931. He introduced another 10,000 tree and plant varieties, including his orchid collection, making Foster a living museum of rare and endangered plants.
Today, the garden is 14 acres of exotic and tropical plants in a variety of gardens including: Palm, economic, butterfly, orchid, heliconias and gingers, herbs, preshistoric Glen and a glass conservatory.
“Foster has palms from every part of the world in its collection,” Sands said. “We have Dwarf Date, Fishtail, Fan, and Coco-de-Mer or Double-Coconut.”
Sands explained that the 50 pound fruit of the Double Coconut is the largest seed in the world. Because of their shape, it is said that exhausted sailors thought the floating seeds were mermaids.
“We purchase Double Coconut pollen from Singapore,” Sands said. “It is sent to us overnight air and we hand pollinate the flowers. It takes 2 years from pollination to seed formation.”
Foster has a Cycad collection that is visited by collectors from all over the world.
“Cycads have a fanatic following,” Sands said. “They are prehistoric conifers and although they outlived the dinosaurs, now they are becoming extinct and need protection. Cycads are terribly mean plants with toxins in every part of the plant.”
For garden enthusiasts, there are not enough hours in a single day to visit and appreciate all of the unique plants of Foster Botanical Garden.
The Economic Garden contains useful plants such as spices, dye plants, medicinal plants, and the poisonous plant used to murder Jane Stanford, co-founder of Stanford University, while she was visiting Honolulu.
If you go
WHAT: Foster Botanic Gardens.
WHEN: Guided tours 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
COST: $5 adults, free concerts and events.