Edible History: canoe garden newest installment at NTBG

The new Hawaiian Life Canoe Garden at National Tropical Botanical Garden like taking a step back to when the Polynesians first landed on Kauai.

Planted along a stream and a jungle path in McBryde Garden, it’s open to visitors and gives a glimpse into Kauai’s history. One of several gardens at NTBG, the Hawaiian Life Canoe Garden features more than two dozen plants brought to the islands by the Polynesian voyagers.

Taro, or kalo, was one of the plants brought over on canoes by some of the first settlers to the islands of Hawaii.


‘Olena, ‘auhuhu, ‘awapuhi and kalo are just a few of the plants in the garden, all marked with signs that state their Hawaiian name, their English and scientific names, and a paragraph of history.

There’s also a traditional hale, the Hawaiian name for house or shelter, made from Kauai-sourced materials.

“The hale is important because everything that it is made with came from here,” said Chipper Wichman, head of NTBG. “The garden helps us visualize how our people of Hawaii lived in a sustainable way.”

All of it is mirrored after aspects of the Native Hawaiian forests and the way Hawaiian canoe plants were traditionally grown — such as the kalo lo’i that are situated just behind the hula mound.

“The lo’i is modeled after the terraces in Limahuli Garden,” Wichman said.

The archaeological terraces at Limahuli Garden are 700 years old and show how Native Hawaiians cultivated kalo, or taro.

Walking through the garden was inspiring for Lihue resident Dominee Maurer, who said she’s working on her own version of a canoe plant garden at her house.

“I want to bring authentic origins to my garden and what an experience to come here and learn,” Maurer said. “I’m inspired.”

This is one of the signs that will introduce you to the history of the
Hawaiian islands at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai

In addition to plants, a star compass has been created in the middle of the walkway just in front of the traditional hale. The star is made of smooth, rough-stained concrete and has Gemini flat cut brass lettering indicating cardinal directions.

The 28 historical Hawaiian navigational markers and a brass bird are laid into the center.

Eve Neibel, of Lawai, volunteered at NTBG 15 years ago and remembers the land before the canoe garden was created.

“We used to clean pots in the recreation center so they could do things like this,” she said. “I’m so happy to see this place come to fruition.”

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper January 18, 2018. Photos by Jessica Else. 

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