The Limahuli is one of a several tropical botanical gardens on Kaua'i. It is built on the site of an aboriginal settlement, at the foot of Makana Mountain. The first part of the visit goes through what they call the "canoe garden", which displays plants brought by the polynesians in their canoes. The tour starts at the breadfruit tree. When I asked why one does not see many of those, I was told that the breadfruit tree is sterile and can only be propagated by cuttings. That is why Captain Bligh, in the 18th century, had to bring live plants back to England, which resulted in the famous mutiny of the Bounty because he had rationed water to his crew in order to water the plants. The kind lady at the desk let me pick one of the ripe fruits that had fallen from the tree, and we ate it that evening cooked as a delicious pudding.
The walls of the taro terraces are actually several hundred years old. Many more terraces lay hidden under the luxuriant vegetation further up the valley. We spent quite a bit of time studying all the plants the original settlers brought in their canoes including, in addition to taro, sugar cane (it is believed that the Polynesians were the first users of sugar cane) coconuts and many others.
The trails winds up along the creek, among ferns and orchids and reaches the Victorian gardens, with plants imported in the 19th century like papayas, for example.
In another part of the garden they are trying to eliminate all the invasive plants imported by humans and only keep truly hawaiian species. It is not an easy task. Some, like the hala tree (pandanus, or screw pine) with its strange stilt roots are very common but others, like this native white hibiscus are almost extinct in the wild. The hala was very important to the early hawaiians and other polynesians. They used the wood extensively and the leaves were braided to make sails, baskets, mats and sandals. We were told that the fruit, however, was only eaten in times of famine.
The upper part of the valley is a nature preserve that is not open to the general public, but the part you can visit is well worth it.
The Waimea Canyon
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