Finding joy in botanical gardens

by Sharon Higa | May 20, 2022

Did you know that Hawaii, in spite of its small land mass, contains more than 40% of the nation’s endangered and threatened plant species?

The staggering statistics, courtesy of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, makes me appreciate even more the amazing and precious native Hawaiian plants that are surviving thanks to conservation, research and educational efforts by state and federal agencies, nonprofit environmental organizations and botanical gardens.

Most public botanical gardens feature plant species and trees from around the globe which raises awareness of the diversity of plant life and ecosystems that inhabit our planet Earth and, for me, deepens my appreciation of Hawaii’s unique endemic species.

Critically endangered plants like the Kamakahala, Cyanea and Hesperomannia species tenuously survive in the wild thanks to conservation efforts, but awareness of their plight can also be better understood by visiting a public botanical garden. Photos by Sean Moura, Hawaiian Electric wildlife biologist.

One of the first places I learned about the work to conserve endangered plant species was at Lyon Arboretum, a public botanical garden nestled deep in Manoa Valley on Oahu. Back in 2011, Hawaiian Electric was a sponsor of a two-day Endangered Species event to highlight the critical need to protect and save endangered species and their habitats.

With its collection of more than 6,000 tropical and sub-tropical plant species on its nearly 200 acres, Lyon Arboretum I imagined was the precursor to Jurassic Park … just without the scary dinosaurs. Here, I discovered lush foliage, brilliantly-hued native and non-native plants and flowers, tropical birds and the arboretum’s impressive micropropagation and seed labs where researchers are doing groundbreaking work in plant recovery and conservation.

Lyon Arboretum

At Waimea Valley on Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaiian Electric sponsored an Earth Month event in 2011, participated in a communal land restoration effort with The Trust for Public Land in 2017 and showcased 360-degree imagery of the valley in 2018 as part of The Outdoor Circle’s Google Trekker program to support conservation efforts. This verdant valley is rich in Hawaiian history and culture with many significant cultural sites. On my visits to Waimea Valley, I was struck anew by the simple beauty of both the native and non-native trees, plants and flowers, all which offered picture-worthy moments.

More recently, during the pandemic, visits to the 14-acre Foster Botanical Gardens in urban Honolulu and 400-acre Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kaneohe, Oahu, reminded me that nature can provide solace in tough times … while walking through a botanical garden is exercise that doesn’t feel like it. Trees that soar into the skies, prehistoric plants that are able to survive today and the gentle sound of buzzing bees and chirping birds inspire awe, reverence and gratefulness for these special places.

As we mark another Endangered Species Day, let’s remember that plants and trees provide nourishment for wildlife, can be a source of medicinal healing, enrich our understanding of native ecosystems, bless us with their natural beauty and should be protected for future generations to enjoy.

Sharon Higa is a senior communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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Established in 1891, Hawaiian Electric is committed to empowering its customers and communities by providing affordable, reliable, clean and sustainable energy.

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Hawaiian Electric

Hawaiian Electric

Established in 1891, Hawaiian Electric is committed to empowering its customers and communities by providing affordable, reliable, clean and sustainable energy.

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