Photos by Megan Spelman
Plant lovers are having a literal field day at the Amy BH Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden during the annual Grow Hawaiian Festival weekend. Weavers tuck strips of hala leaf and makaloa sedge to fashion elegant hats, mats and bracelets; lei makers twist red lehua blossoms into garlands; kapa makers beat wauke, or mulberry bark, to make cloth; and musicians play surprisingly soulful music on ohe hano ‘ihu, or Hawaiian bamboo nose flutes.
The fifteen-acre Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook is a sanctuary for more than two hundred native plant species, many of them endangered, rare or endemic to Hawai‘i Island—meaning they’re found nowhere else in the world. Amy BH Greenwell, the garden’s namesake, was the granddaughter of nineteenth-century rancher HN Greenwell; the amateur archeologist, botanist and lifelong supporter of Bishop Museum bequeathed her home to the museum with a mandate to develop a “pre-Cookian”—that is, before Western contact — botanical garden, along with an interpretive center and research station.
This year on February 21 and 22, the Grow Hawaiian Festival will celebrate its tenth anniversary. Traditional Native Hawaiian plant knowledge will be shared through demonstrations, storytelling, hula, garden tours and display booths. There’ll be weaving, woodworking, kapa and cordage making. Experts on Hawaiian plants, insects and mollusks will also be on hand. And, of course, food. At this year’s festival, you can make your own poi with the kahuna of kalo, Jerry Konanui, who will demonstrate how to pound taro with papa ku‘i ‘ai (boards) and pohaku ku‘i ‘ai (stones). And there’ll be no shortage of the foods the ancient Hawaiians brought with them on their voyaging canoes: mai‘a (bananas), ‘ulu (breadfruit), ‘olena (turmeric), ko (sugar cane) and more.
“People tell us they find the real Hawai‘i here,” says Greenwell Garden manager Peter Van Dyke. “When you go from one booth where people are weaving hats and mats to the next where somebody has a collection of Hawaiian moths, it’s a weird and wonderful juxtaposition that you just don’t find anywhere else.”