5 Unique Botanical Gardens on Oahu

Updated on February 2, 2018

Everyone visiting Oahu on vacation should fold up their beach chair for a bit and take some time to stroll through at least one of the botanical gardens in and around Honolulu. A few are close to Waikiki, where most tourists stay, while others may take a 30 minute drive to get to. Even if you live on Oahu, or are stationed there with the military, you should check out these gardens. You can find everything from tropical rainforests to dusty deserts, and everything in between, at the botanical gardens around Oahu.

When visiting any of the gardens it is advisable to wear good walking shoes, as you may encounter slippery surfaces, loose rocks, fallen branches, thorny plants, or exposed roots. You will also want to bring drinking water and insect repellent. Some of the gardens do not have restrooms, so be prepared for that as well.

A word of caution: do not remove or handle any of the plants or put any plant parts in your mouth, as some plants are poisonous and/or may cause adverse reactions.

Always verify hours of operation before heading out.

Beautiful Trees at Foster Botanical Gardens

The grounds at Foster Botanical Gardens
The grounds at Foster Botanical Gardens | Source

1. Foster Botanical Gardens: An Oasis Just off a Busy, Congested Highway

Set in the midst of downtown Honolulu, Foster Botanical Gardens offers visitors a respite from the commotion of the city's business district. It is the oldest of the botanical gardens on the island and is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.

Foster Botanical Gardens has a formal garden feel and traces its beginning to 1853 when Queen Kalama leased around four acres of land to a young German botanist and physician named Dr. William Hillebrand. He and his wife built a home in what is now the upper terrace area of the present garden. Some of the magnificent trees which tower over the grounds were planted by Dr. Hillebrand. In 1884, the land was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Foster, and at her death she bequeathed the land to the City of Honolulu with the provision that the grounds remain a public park forever.

Dr. Harold Lyon, of Lyon Arboretum featured below, became the first director of the garden and introduced thousands of new plants over 27 years. The gardens continued to expand and now the highlights of this 14 acre garden are a conservatory with a world-class collection of orchids, a palm collection, Cycads, giant Corpse Flowers which bloom once every three to four years, and an “economic garden,” which features plants that are used for food, medicine, fabrics and dyes.

The gardens are located at 180 N. Vineyard Blvd, Honolulu, HI, 96817

Hours: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm daily; Closed on Christmas Day (December 25) and New Year's Day (January 1)

Admission: Adults $5 (13 years and older); Children 6-12 years are $1; Children 5 years and younger are free

Guided tours are offered at 1:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Other tours may be arranged by calling 808-522-7066.

Parking is free. There are restrooms and a gift shop on the grounds.

Paradise Awaits at Hoomaluhia

Enjoy a picnic lunch by the lake.
Enjoy a picnic lunch by the lake. | Source

2. Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens: A Little Slice of Heaven on the Eastern Side of Oahu

The name of these gardens means "to make a place of peace and tranquillity", and this is just what you will find here. The gardens are divided into diverse geographical regions and are home to hundreds of plant species from the Philippines, Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Polynesia and others.

This 400-acre garden was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood protection for the city of Kaneohe. Within this lush setting there is a beautiful 32-acre lake (no swimming). The gardens offer craft and cloud-watching activities and plenty of walking trails.

You can register for a guided nature walk on Saturdays at 10:00 am, or Sundays at 1:00 pm, by calling 808-233-7323 to reserve a spot. These guided walks emphasize environmental awareness as well as botanical and horticultural activities.

The Ko'olau Mountains provide a perfect backdrop for the gardens.
The Ko'olau Mountains provide a perfect backdrop for the gardens. | Source
Colville's Glory at Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
Colville's Glory at Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden | Source

Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens has a Visitor Center that includes an exhibition hall, a lecture room and a botanical library. They also have camping grounds and picnic facilities as well. Camping is allowed from 9:00 am Friday to 4:00 pm Monday. Camping permits are issued via the City and County of Honolulu online camping permit system and must be validated at the Visitor Center.

The gardens are located at 45-680 Luluku Rd, Kaneohe, HI 96744

Hours: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm daily; Closed on Christmas Day (December 25) and New Year's Day (January 1)

Admission is Free.

Restrooms are located in the Visitor Center.

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Beautiful Drought-Tolerant Plants at Halawa Xeriscape Garden

An Ohai (Sesbania tomentosa), an endangered species native to Hawaii
An Ohai (Sesbania tomentosa), an endangered species native to Hawaii | Source

3. Halawa Xeriscape Garden - Learn About Water Conservation and Composting in an Urban Garden Setting

Described by many as a hidden gem in the middle of Oahu, the Halawa Xeriscape Garden (HXG) focuses on teaching visitors techniques for conserving water in residential settings by using plants that don't require much water and through employing other eco-conscious techniques like permaculture and composting.

Opened to the public in 1989, the HXG is a demonstration garden that offers classes and workshops in conjunction with the Board of Water Supply to promote a landscape water conservation program. Topics covered include composting, water catchment, permaculture and aquaponics.

ihi (Portulaca molokiniensis) is a succulent that is truly drought and heat tolerant
ihi (Portulaca molokiniensis) is a succulent that is truly drought and heat tolerant

The Halawa Xeriscape Garden is divided into sections based on how much water certain plants need to survive.

The Hawaiian Garden showcases species native to Hawaii that are adapted to hot, dry conditions. These plants require far less water than most exotics.

The International Garden boasts a collection of plants from the world's dry tropics. The plants here are evaluated for their reaction to varying levels of drought, which is an important aspect of the xeriscape project.

The Bromeliad Garden features species from the tropics of the New World. Bromeliads are related to the pineapple family. They have thick, waxy leaves that form a bowl shape in the centre for catching rainwater.

The Tree Garden includes several experimental drought-tolerant species from all over the globe.

The garden is located at 99-1268 Iwaena St, Aiea, Hawaii 96701

Hours: Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:00 am - 3:00 pm.

Admission is free.

There are restrooms and limited street parking.

It's a Jungle out There at Lyon Arboretum in Manoa Valley!

My boys heading up the path from the Visitor Center at Lyon Arboretum
My boys heading up the path from the Visitor Center at Lyon Arboretum | Source

4. Lyon Arboretum: Take a Walk on the Wild Side in a Tropical Rainforest

Nestled in the back of Manoa Valley, Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Gardens offers a walk through a tropical rainforest only a few miles from Waikiki. The climate in the Manoa Valley is designated as a rainforest as it receives on average 165 inches of rain per year. This makes it the perfect location for the extensive array of tropical plants, trees and birds that are found there.

In 1918, the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association, led by director Dr. Harold Lyon, purchased 194 acres of land in the upper Manoa valley to study the effects of different tree species in reforestation to combat damage done by wandering cattle and man-made obstructions that had affected groundwater runoff. It was originally called Manoa Arboretum. In 1953 the land was transferred to the University of Hawaii Manoa and its focus changed from forestry to horticulture. The arboretum was renamed posthumously for Dr. Lyon in 1957, but did not officially open as a botanical garden until 1972. The gardens now boast one of the most extensive collections of tropical plant species in the world.

The lower gardens near the Visitor Center showcase herbs and spices from around the world and a native Hawaiian garden. There is a Memorial Garden that features a pond and a brass fountain in the shape of a lotus flower.

From the lower area you can venture out through a network of trails to view plants from the Pacific Basin and Asia, including a collection of 600 palm species. Along the way, depending on the path you take, you will encounter The Great Lawn, a Bromeliad Garden, a Fern Valley, and thousands of beautiful plants in an exotic setting. Keep your eyes and ears open for tropical birds too. The trails culminate at ‘Aihualama Falls. Grab a map at the Visitor Center before you head out.

The gardens also offer classes featuring yoga, cooking, botanical photography and ecopsychology, which studies the benefits of being in a natural setting to aid in physical and mental well-being. You can also learn weaving and shibori indigo dyeing techniques.

Mussaenda Queen Sirikit shrub, named after the Queen of Thailand
Mussaenda Queen Sirikit shrub, named after the Queen of Thailand | Source

Definitely carry mosquito repellent and wear proper clothing. Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes as well, since the trails can be very slippery and the elevation ranges from 450 to 1,850 feet above sea level. Expect to encounter light rainfall.

The arboretum and botanical gardens are located at 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu, Hi, 96822.

Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm; Saturdays: 9:00 am - 3:00 pm; Closed: Sundays, State and Federal Holidays

Guided tours of the Arboretum take about 1 1/2 hours and are offered on Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m. and Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. Call 808-988-0456 to make reservations.

There are restrooms next to the Visitor Center.

Aloe in Bloom at Koko Crater Botanical Garden


5. Koko Crater Botanical Gardens: A Garden in an Extinct Volcano

Koko Crater is dormant tuft cone located on the southeastern side of Oahu. The climate in this area is desert-like and in 1958, the Honolulu Botanical Garden Division of the County Department of Parks and Recreation set aside the land inside of the crater for use as an experimental garden to study rare and endangered plants found in hot, dry climates.

The 60-acre gardens are subdivided into four major geographic sectors: Hawaii, the Americas, Madagascar and Africa. Along the two-mile loop trail visitors will find a variety of cultivars representing these different regions, including native wiliwili trees, which are protected under Hawaii State Law by the Exceptional Tree Act 105. You will also see cacti and succulents, Plumeria, Bougainvillea and a varieity of dryland palms.

Flowering shrubs along the trail in Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Flowering shrubs along the trail in Koko Crater Botanical Garden | Source

While in the area you may also want to take the hike to the top of the crater or go to the shooting range, which along with the gardens are part of Koko Head District Park.

The gardens are located at 7491 Kokonani St.,Honolulu, HI 96825. The garden entrance is near the Koko Crater Horse Stables.

Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Closed on Christmas Day (December 25) and New Year's Day (January 1).

Admission is free.

There are tables and benches for picnics. Be sure to bring plenty of water.

There is a porta-potty at the beginning of the trail.

What is an Exceptional Tree?

An exceptional tree is “a tree, stand or grove of trees with historic or cultural value, or that by reason of age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality or endemic status, is designated by a county arborist advisory committee as worthy of preservation”. In 1975, the Hawaii Legislature passed the Exceptional Tree Act (Act 105) to protect designated trees, both public and private, from improper trimming and unnecessary removal.

Bonus: Kapiolani Community College Cactus Garden

Started in 1988 by Mr. Moriso Teraoka, this little-known garden is truly a labor of love. A retiree and former member of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd RCT, Mr. Teraoka had a passion to bring a garden space to life, so with permission to use a small portion of unused space at the Kapiʻolani Community College he began to plant and cultivate a cactus and succulent garden. He ordered seeds and plants from various catalogs, designed the space, and with the help of volunteers he has spent his time throughout the years, usually seven days a week, to develop this 1/2 acre garden into what is is today--an exotic sanctuary of cactus varieties from all over the world.


The garden has won the Outdoor Circle Beautification Award twice in previous years. There is also a "poet" tree where visitors can write a poem on provided paper and it will be laminated and hung on the tree.

Mr. Moriso Teraoka next to his "poet" tree
Mr. Moriso Teraoka next to his "poet" tree | Source

The campus is located at 4303 Diamond Head Road, and the garden is located near Parking Lot C running along the lower edge of the campus and situated near the entrance to Diamond Head park. If you are staying in Waikiki you could catch a bus or even walk (about two miles from the heart of Waikiki). The college also hosts a farmer's market on Saturdays, so combine the two for a nice outing!

Admission is free.

Foster Botanical Garden
$5 Adult, $3 Child over 5
Yes - tables
Yes - tables
Halawa Xeriscape
Lyon Arboretum
Free; donation welcome
Yes - benches
Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Yes - tables
Kapiolani C.C. Cactus Garden
Yes - table

Botanical Gardens on Oahu

Foster Botanical Gardens:
Foster Botanic Garden, 180 North Vineyard Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA

get directions

Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens:
Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden, 45-680 Luluku Road, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA

get directions

Halawa Xeriscape:
99 Iwaena Street, Aiea, HI 96701, USA

get directions

Lyon Arboretum:
Lyon Arboretum, Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve, 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

get directions

Koko Crater Botanical Garden:
Koko Crater Botanical Garden, 7491 Kokonani Street, Honolulu, HI 96825, USA

get directions

Kapiolani Community College Cactus Garden:
Kapi'olani Community College, 4303 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu, HI 96816, USA

get directions


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    • Kappygirl profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Yes poetryman6969! All of the Hawaiian islands are very diverse--they even get snow on top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island! There are cattle ranches on the grasslands of Maui and fern grottos and plunging waterfalls on Kauai. So much to discover!

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      5 years ago

      So there is a cactus garden and some drought tolerant plants in the Hawaiian islands? Didn't see that one coming.


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