The National Tropical Botanical Garden (originally the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden) is the only tropical botanical garden with a charter from the United States Congress as a not-for-profit institution, dedicated to tropical plant research, conservation and education.
Four of NTBG’s gardens are in the Hawaiian Islands; the fifth is on the US mainland in Florida. The Hawai‘i gardens include, McBryde and Allerton Gardens in Lāwa‘i, South Shore of Kauai; Limahuli Garden and Preserve on the North Shore of Kauai and Kahuna Garden on the Hāna Coast of Maui. The Kampong is located on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove, Florida.
Limahuli Garden and Preserve is set on the north shore of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. The Garden is back-dropped by Makana Mountain and overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
The name “Limahuli,” which means “turning hands,” which describes the agricultural activities of early Hawaiians in the Valley. Lava-rock terraces for growing taro (lo‘i kalo) were built there 700-1,000 years ago.
These and other plants that were significant to the early inhabitants, as well as native species, make up the Garden’s collections. The property includes a plantation-era garden, as well as invasive species that were introduced by modern man. Limahuli Stream, one of the last pristine waterways left in the Islands, provides a habitat for indigenous aquatic life.
Behind the Garden is the Limahuli Preserve where conservationists and restoration biologists are working to preserve species native to this habitat.
The goal for Limahuli Garden and Preserve is the ecological and cultural restoration of Limahuli Valley, using the ahupua‘a system of resource management as a template for this work – a convergence of past and present, where native plants as well as ancient and contemporary Hawaiian culture are being actively preserved, nurtured and perpetuated.
Archaeological evidence substantiates that the Limahuli Valley on Kauai was one of the earliest settlements in what is now Hawai‘i.
Over time families and communities grew, new settlements were created, and natural boundaries – which extended along streams from the mountains into the ocean – developed between villages.
Limahuli Valley was part of the ahupua`a of Hā‘ena. The name “Limahuli,” which means “turning hands,” aptly describes the agricultural activities of early Hawaiians in the Valley. Lava-rock terraces for growing taro (lo‘i kalo) were built here 700-1,000 years ago.
The arrival of Captain Cook in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778 initiated an influx of human, animal, and plant immigrants from all over the world. After the Great Mahele (land division act) in 1848, Limahuli Valley became the property of an absentee landlord.
The Valley was used to graze cattle, greatly accelerating the destruction of native plants. Subsequent reforestation of cleared lands was accomplished by introducing faster growing non-native trees, which overwhelmed the less aggressive native species.
In 1955, at the request of the Hui Ku‘ai ‘Āina O Hā‘ena, an association that had acquired the entire ahupua`a in 1875, the Fifth Circuit Court began proceedings to partition the land and create fee simple ownership of the ahupua‘a.
This process took 12 years to complete, during which time Hawai‘i became a state and the new government designated the ahupua‘a of Hā‘ena as a new State Conservation District.
At the end of the partition process in 1967, Limahuli Valley was assigned to Juliet Rice Wichman, a member of the Hui who had long recognized the need to preserve and protect Limahuli. She immediately removed the cattle and began developing a garden.
Land was cleared, gravel roads were installed, and restoration work to the taro terraces started. In 1976, she gifted the lower part of the Valley, now known as Limahuli Garden, to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and upon her death left the nearly 1,000 remaining acres to one of her grandsons, Chipper Wichman.
After receiving formal training in tropical horticulture, both at NTBG and the University of Hawai‘i, Wichman continued his grandmother’s legacy by adding plantings in the Garden portion and conducting a botanical survey of the area known today as Limahuli Preserve. Subsequently, in 1994, Wichman gave his acreage to the NTBG as well, forming Limahuli Garden and Preserve.
The area’s unique resources prompted Wichman to seek new zoning regulations from the State. A master plan was developed, followed by the preparation of an environmental assessment.
New legislation resulted in the creation of the Limahuli Valley Special Subzone. Implementation of the master plan began. Tours had been offered on a minimal basis to NTBG members; in 1995, a full-fledged public tour program was initiated and the construction of visitor facilities followed.
In 1997, the American Horticultural Society awarded Limahuli Garden its “Best Natural Botanical Garden” designation for demonstrating “best sound environmental practices of water, soil, and rare native plant conservation in an overall garden design.”
The goal for Limahuli Garden and Preserve is the ecological and cultural restoration of Limahuli Valley, using the ahupua`a system of resource management as a template for this work. The result is that past and present converge in this lovely valley, where native plants as well as ancient and contemporary Hawaiian culture are being actively preserved, nurtured, and perpetuated.
Limahuli Preserve (acquired in 1994)
Limahuli Preserve is located on the northern coast of Kauai in a lush tropical valley that contains an almost pristine Hawaiian stream with a waterfall that plummets nearly 800 feet into the lower valley. This isolated area is surrounded on three sides by precipitous ridges 2,000 feet high.
Within this spectacular setting are three separate ecological zones and many ancient Hawaiian archaeological sites. Botanical surveys have indicated that although much of the lower valley has been modified in the past, it remains an invaluable resource for native plant and animal species.
The unique topography in Limahuli Valley has resulted in two distinct management areas. These are: 1) The Upper Preserve, which is a “hanging” upper valley that extends to an elevation of over 3,000 feet at its highest point near the Alaka’i Swamp, and 2) the Lower Preserve, which is the part of the valley that is located below the waterfall.
Lower Limahuli Preserve
The Lower Limahuli Preserve contains approximately 600 acres of land. It is not open to the public and access is rugged and only by foot.
The unspoiled Limahuli Stream has never been highly degraded by human impact, although the ancient Hawaiians did use its waters to irrigate their lo`i kalo (taro patches), which were located throughout the Lower Preserve as well as on the plain in front of the valley. Today, the stream has a full complement of native fauna, including fish and crustaceans that are found only in Hawai‘i.
Over the past 100 years the Lower Preserve has seen a major decline in the population of native plants, primarily due to the introduction of feral cattle in the late 1800s. The consequence has been not only the loss of native species, but also the establishment of many alien species of plants that are aggressive and able to out compete most of the native plant species.
In an effort to restore this unique area to a more natural state, the Limahuli Garden staff began an aggressive plant-community restoration program. Efforts have been directed at three important plant communities – the mesic lowland forest, wet forest, and riparian plant communities.
The results of these innovative restoration projects have garnered national recognition, demonstrated the importance of restoration projects in Hawai‘i, and proven our ability to turn the tide of retreating plant communities. They serve as models for newer projects.
Upper Limahuli Preserve
The Upper Limahuli Preserve encompasses approximately 400 acres of land above Limahuli Falls and extends from about 1,600 feet at the top of the falls to 3,330 feet at the summit of Hono O Napali. At upper elevations, the vegetation is characteristic of montane rain forest, while at lower elevations it is characteristic of lowland rain forest.
The Upper Preserve is remote, requiring the use of a helicopter to gain access. Historically, this area has suffered from different environmental pressures than those exerted on the Lower Preserve.
Surveys have indicated that it was never intensely cultivated or modified by the ancient Hawaiians and it was isolated from the impacts of the cattle that did so much damage in the Lower Preserve. As a result, the Upper Preserve was still considered to be a pristine ecosystem with very few non-native species until the early 1980s.
In 1982, and again in 1992, this unspoiled area was severely damaged by two powerful hurricanes. These devastating storms not only denuded the vegetation, but also spread aerial-borne alien weed seeds through much of the area. In the past 20 years the area has also been subject to increased pressure from expanding populations of feral pigs.
Since 1992, staff has increased management activities in this remote area in an effort to mitigate the decline of this once pristine ecosystem. Restoration and management programs today are focusing on control of the worst of the invasive plant species and control of the feral pigs. Given time and adequate resources we hope to begin returning this area to its original condition.