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Manoa Valley botanical garden reopens

by Nanea Kalani, staff writer


Where Manoa Road comes to an end, Lyon Arboretum begins.

The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, part of the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Natural Sciences, is a resource for HPU and all of O‘ahu’s public and private schools and colleges. Situated on nearly 200 acres in Manoa Valley, it has been in the news recently, as it was closed for safety reasons and only reopened in January.



In the early 1990s, before the arboretum’s existed, Manoa Valley’s lower slopes were stripped of their native vegetation by excessive agricultural cultivation and the overgrazing of cattle.

In 1918, the Hawai‘i Sugar Planters Association purchased 124 acres of Manoa Valley as part of a forest restoration project “to demonstrate the value of watershed restoration, test tree species for reforestation, and collect plants,” according to a UH Colleges of Arts and Sciences newsletter.

The Sugar Planters Association put Dr. Harold Lyon, a botanist from Minnesota, in charge.

According to the Web site, Lyon brought in and planted about 2,000 tree species on the grounds, and then the facility came to be known as Manoa Arboretum. In 1953, the Sugar Planters Association gave the land to the University of Hawai‘i, “with the provision that the facility must be used as an arboretum and botanical garden in perpetuity.”

After the University of Hawai‘i took over the arboretum, the Web site continues, the “emphasis shifted from forestry to horti-culture…. More recently, the arboretum has dedicated itself to becoming a center for the rescue and propagation of rare and endangered native Hawaiian plants.”

The arboretum is the only university arboretum located in a rainforest and serves as “a center for educational activities on plants, arts, culture, geography, and a range of other sciences,” the newsletter also said. Scholars from around the world, in biology, botany, Hawaiian studies, horticulture, zoology, and other fields use the arboretum in their research and teaching.

The arboretum has 13 employees handling administration, according to arboretum research associate, Raymond Baker. Lyon Arboretum no longer has a director, as “all employees report directly to the UH dean of natural sciences,” he added.

According to Baker, Lyon Arboretum “sees 35,000 people in a ‘normal year,’ including visitors, students, and volunteers.”

Lyon Arboretum is home to exclusive plant collections, said Baker. “We have a section devoted to native plants, an extensive palm collection, heliconia and ginger collections, and magnificent trees scattered throughout the property.”

Baker also mentioned that the arboretum’s “setting is unique, surrounded on three sides by mountains. And the waterfall is nice,” he added.

In August 2004, the Lyon Arboretum was forced to close after an audit by the state, according to Baker. Concerns about “rough trails, hazardous trees, and old buildings [on the property] were serious enough to alert the U.H. president” to take action, Baker said.

According to Baker, the university had no plans for a speedy re-opening of the arboretum, “So, we got the public riled up…and within a month, it became a top priority. Community members were asked to help by writing letters to state legislators and U.H. administration. The public’s reaction helped to bring U.H.’s focus” back to the arboretum, Baker said. As a result, $3 million was provided for improvements.

Lyon Arboretum was re-opened on Jan. 2.

Today, according to Baker, the arboretum has increased signage cautioning visitors that the trails are natural and to “watch footing.” The trees deemed “hazardous” have been removed, and the buildings of concern are now closed to the public, Baker added.

Admission to Lyon Arboretum is by donation. Suggested admission donations are $7 for visitors, $5 for kama‘aina and students. For more information about the Lyon Arboretum, call 988-0456 or visit

Editor’s note: Kalamalama attempted to contact HPU faculty regarding their use of the Lyon Arboretum, but calls and e-mails to HPU science faculty were not returned.


2004, Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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