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Collections By Family


Some of the most brilliantly colored flowers in the plant kingdom can be found in this family of nearly 750 species. Most evolved in tropical South America, and in a surprisingly wide variety of forms, from trees and shrubs to herbs and woody vines. The showy, asymmetrical flowers are typified by the African tulip tree, Spathodea campanulata*, the Jacaranda, J. mimosifolis, and the many species of Tabebuia.

The fruit, usually not palatable to people, sometimes take unusual shapes which give the calabash tree, the sausage tree and the candle tree their common names. Although some species yield durable hardwood, most are cultivated as ornamentals for landscaping.

* This weedy species has been eliminated from Waimea Valley


TaroThese herbaceous (non-woody) plants are found in tropical rainforests around the world. With nearly 2,000 species divided into 115 genera, the aroids are one of the largest plant families with an astounding variety of form. They often display striking foliage and unusual flower structures. Many are popular as houseplants for their ability to thrive in shady areas.

Some ground-dwelling herbs have starchy roots, like our edible kalo or taro, Colocasia, a staple for 400 million people of the tropics. Many are climbing vines like the Philodendron with aerial roots for support in addition to their normal ground roots for nutrition. Some climbing aroids have leaves which change in size and shape when they start to climb up a tree. The leaves of the pocket plant, Xanthosoma, act as reservoirs. The monstera, which has a pineapple flavored fruit, has holes in its leaves.

Some epiphytic aroids need no ground roots, deriving all their nourishment from the air. Anthuriums are of this type, found on branches or in leaf litter in the wild, but put in pots when grown commercially as ornamentals.

There are two separate gardens of aroids (plants in the Araceae family). One is across from the Hawaiian plant collection on your way to the 1st bridge. The 2nd is reached by decending the 1st flight of stairs on your left as you go up the Valley 300 yards past the 1st bridge.

Arecaceae (Palmae)

PalmThe palm family is one of the oldest groups of flowering plants. Fossil records show that they dominated the mid-cretaceous forests 80 million years ago. Today nearly 2650 species can be found in the tropics and warm temperate regions. They have adapted to widely varying habitats, from seashores to mountaintops and from deserts to steamy jungles. The fruit and other vegetative parts provide edible oils, starches and sugars, as well as medicines, waxes, fibers and thatching material. Examples of economically important produces are coconuts, dates, Carnauba wax and rattan. Both the American and African oil palms are on display here.

Only one genus of palms existed in Hawai‘i before the arrival of man. The loulu or Pritchardia palms diversified to many species, each adapted to a specific region on one or more of the islands.

The palms in this garden are divided into 15 sections according to different evolutionary characteristics. Our native loulu palms are planted on separated beds in the Palm Meadow, each shaped like the Hawaiian island where that loulu is native.


The lily family used to be considered one of the largest and most wide-spread flowering plant families in the world, but botanists have long recognized that its forms and flowering structures are too diverse to be lumped together. Modern taxonomy is splitting the family apart and many of its plants have been relegated to other, sometimes new families. Bulbous leafs like tulips, onions or garlic are still placed to the Liliaceae or also known as Alliaceae family.

The Polynesian-introduced Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa) and the exotic Draceana have now been placed in the Agavaceae family. Perched on dry cliffs in many parts of Hawai`i are naturalized plants of Agave sisalana, which escaped cultivation, is known for its fiber. The Dragon Tree, Draceana draco, from the Canary Islands, famous for medicinal blood-red sap is also in this family. The Agavaceae family includes 6 endemic Hawaiian species, all in tthe old world genus Pleomele. These look very similar to the Draceana plants, commonly known as the Money plant, but their flower parts differ.


PeperomiaTwo of the most easily recognized members of this pantropical family are piper, woody climbers or shrubs including some trees, and peperomia, low herbs that are popular as houseplants. All of these plants have jointed stems and inconspicuous flowers born on spikes.

The condiment, pepper, comes from one of the 2,000 or more species of piper. The fruit of Piper nigrum can be ground whole to make black pepper or the outer coating can be removed first to yield white pepper. A close relative is Piper methysticum, called ‘awa in Hawai‘i, where over 15 varieties were once cultivated, or kava in other parts of the Pacific where its traditional use remains a central part of many cultures. A mixture of the pounded roots and water is consumed ritually, medicinally, or as a mild intoxicant.

Of the 1,000 or more species of peperomia some are found only in Hawai‘i. Some were used in medicine and in the manufacture of a gray dye for staining tapa cloth.

Ornamentals like the jade plant and the watermelon peperomia are widely used as potted plants. These prefer cool, moist conditions for optimal growth.


Squirrel TailThis is one of t he most colorful collections of its kind in Hawai`i.

There are many colorful herbs, shrubs and vines in this plant family. Most of the 2,500 species are found in the tropics. The four main areas of distribution are Africa, Indonesia, Brazil and South America.

Considering the immense distribution throughout the world, it is curious that there are no native Hawaiian species. All the plants found in this garden are from other tropical spots throughout the world.

There are few species that have economical uses, and few trees in this family. Most of the plants are strictly ornamental, including the shrimp plant, black-eyed susan and the Philippine violet. Two outstanding genera in this collection are Schaueria and Aphelandra. Another plant, the squirrel tail, is popular in Hawai‘i for making leis.


While there are over 1,400 species, it is often called the pineapple family after the best-known member of the family. Most of these plants are from the West Indies and tropical America, except for Pitcairnia, which is native to West Africa.

The plants range in size from less than one inch, like Tillandsia, to huge plants with flower spikes over 10 feet high, like Puya. In addition, these plants can grow not only at sea level but also up to elevations over 1,400 feet.

Many plants like the pineapple are terrestrial, which grow in the ground. But, others are epiphytes, which grow on tree branches and even on the stems of desert cacti.


Also growing in this area are clerodendrums (Verbenaceae family). There are over 400 species of shrubs, vines and trees from tropical, sub-tropical and warm temperate areas of the world. These plants are colorful and for the most part are easy to cultivate, but are not widely known. We have had to eliminate several species of this weedy genus.

Musaceae and Strelitziaceae (Banana and Bird of Paradise families)

These closely related families encompass approximately 50 species of tropical herbaceous plants.


The economically valuable banana originated in the Old World tropics; Musa is the main genus in the family and has over 40 species and some 300 clonal varieties. Used for food and fiber, the banana is widely cultivated throughout the warmer parts of the world. Less sweet varieties intended for cooking are called plantains.

A banana plant cannot be called a tree, as it has no wood. It flowers only once and then dies. Though a few species produce viable seeds, most are cultivated by replanting the new keikis that form at the base of the parent plant. Bananas were first brought to Hawai`i from the South Pacific by migrating Polynesians. Some of the cultivars bred by generations of Hawaiian farmers can be seen in the Hawaiian Ethnobotany Collection.


The beautiful bird-of-paradise flower from southern Africa is the most familiar member of this family. Also included are the South American Phenakospermum which can grow to a height of 35 feet and the distinctively fan-shaped Travellers Tree, Ravenala, from Madagascar. Thirsty travelers could tap water from closed cavities that help support its leaf blades.