Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hawaiian Heritage Landscaping

If you’re looking for ideas on how to use native plants in landscaping around your home, pay a visit to the nonprofit Manoa Heritage Center on O'ahu. The Cooke family has established a native Hawaiian garden that wraps around their estate in Manoa Valley and mimics natural settings. That is, native trees are underplanted with shade-loving native shrubs and herbs, just as they occur in the wild, which results in a more pleasing aesthetic.

The garden features some common, easy-to-grow natives from a wide range of vegetation zones from makai to mauka, as well as some rare and endangered species. Here are some of the native plants you’ll see at Manoa Heritage Center.

Hau kuahiwi, (Hibiscadelphus distans) an endangered plant. This O'ahu variety has smaller blooms than the one I've seen on Hawai'i Island...

'Awikiwiki (Canavalia galeata) climbs the side of the reconstructed heiau, adapted to the hot, dry conditions.

Munroidendron, ( Munroidendron racemosum) an extremely rare and endangered plant, is doing well with ample water. Here are the unusual seed pods.

There is also a garden of “canoe plants” important in Hawaiian culture, for example kalo (taro), 'uala (sweet potato), 'ohi'a 'ai (mountain apple). The garden includes native pili grass (Heteropogon contours) shown below, which was used for thatching homes.

The stately Tudor-style home called Kuali'i was built from bluestone lava quarried on site in 1911. It is adjacent to a recently restored agricultural heiau, Kukao'o, most likely dedicated to the Hawaiian god Lono. This heiau was one of many that were in Manoa Valley in ancient times. The heiau was reconstructed from the original stones under the guidance of historic preservationist expert Nathan Napoka and the crew of Billy Fields, specialist in the pa pohaku masonry of ancient Hawai'i. To read more about this heiau, click here.

Manoa Valley once cradled acres of taro fields that fed the population of a sizeable ahapua’a that stretched all the way to Waikiki. Before the arrival of agriculture, native plants flourished in the valley; today, Manoa is an upscale suburban neighborhood where introduced species make up the verdant lawns and precisely pruned hedges.

The Cookes have created a culturally rich, memorable experience for Hawai'i’s keiki who might not otherwise have the chance to see and experience native fauna in their urban environment. MHC is an excellent location to begin a discussion about the use of pohaku (stone) in building and architecture in Hawai'i - how it all fits together historically, literally and figuratively. It’s a unique educational opportunity for Hawaii school children to experience the flow of historical events and the impacts of change on the landscape. Students can feel what the landscape might have looked like before the arrival of humans and its appearance during pre-contact Hawai'i; they can also compare the changes in the ways of life for ensuing generations.

If you visit, please be aware that this is private residence of the Cooke family. The interior is closed to the public, but someday will be open to the public as a museum. For information and reservations, call (808) 988-1287 or email For website, click here.

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