“In Honor of George Campbell Munro. Pioneer in Hawaiian botany and ornithology. Whose vision and initiative led to the establishment of Na Lāʻau Hawaii Arboretum -1962” (plaque at Diamond Head.)
We generally associate Munro (born in New Zealand on May 10, 1866) as a ranch manager on Lānaʻi – actually he was an ornithologist (birds.)
On December 13, 1890, George Campbell Munro arrived in Honolulu after a voyage aboard the steamship Mariposa which left Auckland, New Zealand on the 1st of December.
He was to assist ornithologist, Henry C Palmer (in the Islands 1890-1893) in collecting birds in Hawai‘i under the sponsorship of Lord Walter Rothschild for the museum collection in Tring, England.
The first intensive scientific collecting expedition in the Northwestern leeward Hawaiian Islands was conducted in the summer of 1891. (Smithsonian) Munro pioneered in the banding of seafowl.
Munro worked seven years on Kaua‘i, then worked seven more on Moloka‘i, where he was the ranch manager from 1899 to 1906.
After a brief return to New Zealand in 1911, he was offered the position as the range manager of the Lānaʻi cattle ranch. (Towill; Wood)
In 1911, Munro found the importance of the fog drip coming from the Lānaʻi Hale was valuable water. He realized that pine trees collected a lot of water from the fog and clouds. Munro then created program of planting cook pines across the island of Lānaʻi and also Lānaʻi Hale to collect fog drip.
In 1930, Lānaʻi switched from ranching to pineapple. Munro retired to Honolulu; his home was on the west slope of Diamond Head.
From 1935 to 1937, Munro started the first comprehensive survey of the birds of Hawai‘i and in 1939 he helped found the “Honolulu Audubon Society” which eventually became the Hawaii Audubon Society.
It was not until 1944 that Munro published his Birds of Hawaiʻi (of which a slightly revised edition appeared in 1960.) It contains authentic short accounts of most of the extinct Hawaiian species by one of the very few naturalists ever to view them alive.
In 1950, Munro started his efforts in the creation of a botanical garden of Hawaiian arid plant species. He received permission from the National Guard to plant on a 9-acre tract on the west exterior slopes of Diamond Head.
In the early years of Na Lāʻau, Munro, with help from family and friends, personally developed the garden; when rainfall was insufficient, he “carried buckets of water up the steep slopes to supplement the natural supply.”
His work resulted in the Na Lāʻau Arboretum and its companion Ke Kuaʻāina garden of endemic plants, which eventually grew to over 100-acres; it became part of the Board of Agriculture park system on March 7, 1958.
In 1958, the governor of Hawaiʻi designated the garden as a sanctuary. A water system consisting or a pump, tank and an irrigation line were constructed in the arboretum. (DLNR)
In 1961, the Garden Club of Honolulu funded the construction of a lookout area with benches. A little remembered monument sits on the west side of Diamond Head (noting the language listed at the beginning of this post.)
The extent of the garden runs over an area 328-feet long and 66- to 99-feet wide. The remnants of this garden are located along a trail that runs north from Makalei Place. (DLNR)
Conservation Council of Hawaiʻi’s first conservation award was given to George C Munro, a CCH member and conservationist (1960s.)
In 1960, at age 94, he became an honorary member of the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens Society. A year later, he won the Garden Club of America’s Medal of Honor and was elected honorary associate of the Bishop Museum.
The William S. Richardson School of Law gives the George C Munro Award for Environmental Law (established by the Hawai‘i Audubon Society.)
A well-known trail on Lānaʻi is named after him, as are dozens of plant species, including the rare munroidendron.
DLNR’s Master Plan for Diamond Head (2003) notes, the existing Na Lāʻau Arboretum, located outside the crater below Diamond Head peak, is inaccessible and has suffered neglect over many years (it has not been maintained since the 1970s.)
The Plan proposes to create a new master planned ethnobotanical garden, using the blueprint of the original Na Lāʻau arboretum; a copy of the Munro Monument could be placed there.
It would be located outside of the crater in a large area that had previously been proposed for the construction of a private tennis facility, between the Kāhala Tunnel and Diamond Head Road.
The site is readily accessible to the surrounding community and to Kapiʻolani Community College. The plan notes nearby residents and students could implement and provide maintenance. (Lots of information here from ʻElepaio and DLNR.)
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