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It’s noisy on the corner of Vineyard Boulevard and Nuuanu Avenue in downtown Honolulu. The surfer-laden waves of Waikiki and the glitzy, high-end shops and restaurants of Ala Moana are only a few blocks away. Look closely to find the Foster Botanical Gardens – its entrance is set back from the busy boulevard, the enveloping foliage enhancing the sensation of stepping into a different world from the cityscape outside.
Mature trees, many planted in the 1850s, define this urban Hawaiian haven. The garden also features collections of orchids, palms, herbs and the primitive plants in the Prehistoric Glen.
Part of the fun of a visit to the garden is the nomenclature – locating trees with intriguing names like earpod, sausage tree, rainbow shower and cannonball tree is a game itself.
The search is worthwhile – these fascinating sounding trees literally live up to their names. The lawn below the earpod tree (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) is festooned with shiny, brown ear-shaped pods; long sausage-shaped fruits hang on cord-like stalks from the sausage tree (Kigelia africana) native to West Africa, while the hybrid rainbow shower (Cassia x nealiae ‘Wilhelmina Tenney’) bears flowers in the colour spectrum from reddish-pink to golden yellow.
The cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis) attracts plenty of attention. Warning signs are posted all around the native Guiana tree – and it’s easy to imagine the heavy falling fruit could give an unwary visitor quite a headache.
Other interesting trees include the chicle (Manilkara zapota) which produces the sap used as an ingredient in making chewing gum; and the bo tree (Ficus religiosa), the sacred tree of Buddhists. And then there’s loulu (Pritchardia lowreyana) – worth finding because they are Hawaii’s only native palms.
The Foster Botanical Garden is one of five sites that make up the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. The others are the Lili‘uokalani Botanical Garden, Wahi’awa Botanical Garden, KoKo Crater Botanical Garden and the 400-acre Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden.