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The Big Island of Hawaii Tropical Gardens

The Big Island is bursting with an endless palette of exotic, tropical life. From arid lava fields to fertile pioneer forests, the island's 13 climate zones sustain an abundance of enchanting foliage and wildlife. An umbrella, mosquito repellent, and drinking water will keep you well prepared for many enjoyable Big Island garden explorations.

Bold acres of exotic orchids blanket the Big Island. Known as The Orchid Isle, Big Island flower farmers cultivate thousands of varieties of these sturdy exotics. They're often perched on top of tropical drinks, threaded into lavish leis and scattered through elaborate decorations. Seven species of orchids grow wild throughout the islands, three are native and four are introduced. You'll find many orchid gardens and shops all around the island.

The mature, moist Hilo region of the island is home to dense tropical jungles. You'll find lavish waterfalls, lazy streams, rugged coastline, and an amazing array of plant and animal life at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden nature preserve. HTBG is nestled in a rainforest valley along Onomea Bay, about 7 miles north of Hilo. Self-guided trails wind along the spectacular coast and deep into the fertile forest. Many species of palms, bromeliads, gingers, heliconias and exotic ornamentals are among more than 2,000 species in the garden's collection. Rare, endangered, and medicinal plants are included as well. On Highway 19, follow the blue signs which designate the 4-mile scenic route, it's on the makai (ocean) side of the highway. Admission fees into the non-profit garden are: $15 for adults, $10 for kama`aina, ages 16 and under are free. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Set amid the lush Panaewa Rainforest, the Nani Mau Gardens feature anthuriums, orchids, fruit trees, manicured gardens, a botanical museum, gift shops and restaurants. This 20-acre garden is about 3 miles south of the Hilo Airport on Highway 11. Look for a colorful, floral ALOHA sign between mile markers 3 and 4 along Makalika Street. Garden hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, museum hours are 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is $7.50, 6 years and under are free. Narrated tram rides are available for an additional $5.

The Kailua-Kona coast features a fascinating ethnobotanical garden, which is part of the Bishop Museum. The Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden embraces traditional Hawaiian uses of plants and land. A 5-acre remnant of an ancient agricultural field system is contained within the garden, as well as collections of banana, taro, sugarcane, and native Hawaiian plants. The garden's layout portrays the four vegetation zones which were traditionally utilized by Hawaiians in the Kona region: coastal, lowland dry forest, upland forest, food and fiber crops. Admission is free. It's located in Captain Cook between the 109 and 110 mile marker, 13 miles south of Kailua-Kona.

Cultivated plants of Hawaii are featured in the Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens, Kona Outdoor Circle Educational Center. Trails meander through terraced Hawaiian plants which are segregated by their regions of origin. An educational center, which houses a horticultural library, and a heiau (temple) accompany the gardens. Tours are self-guided and admission is free. The gardens are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Groups of 10 or more may request a free docent tour by registering in advance. The gardens and educational center are located in Kailua-Kona, on the makai (ocean) side of the intersection of Queen Kaahumanu and Kuakini Highways.

Orchids and bromeliads, nature trails and waterfalls are some highlights of Umauma Waterfalls and Gardens. The botanical gardens are located north of Kailua-Kona in Umauma. Follow Highway 19 to the 16 mile marker. The gardens are 1/2 mile off the highway. Admission is $5 for adults, ages 12 to 18 are $2, children are free.

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