Looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Honolulu? Just a few blocks removed from Honolulu’s business district is one of Oahu‘s best-kept secrets: Foster Botanical Garden, a serene oasis full of beautiful plants from tropical regions around the globe.
Set on nearly 14 acres, Foster Botanical Garden has one of the nation’s largest collections of tropical plants—about 10,000 species in all, including rare and endangered varieties. Highlights include a lovely orchid garden; rare and endangered trees (some of which are extinct in the wild); an herb garden; a prehistoric garden (spotlighting primitive plants from around the world); and an impressive “economic garden,” which features plants that are used for food, medicine, fabrics, and dyes.
The garden originated in 1853 when Queen Kalama leased a small patch of land to a young German doctor named William Hillebrand. An avid botanist, as well as physician, Hillebrand and his wife, built a home in the upper terrace area of the present garden. After some 20 years in Hawaii, he returned to Germany and produced a lengthy dissertation titled Flora of the Hawaiian Islands.
Later, the property was sold to Thomas and Mary Foster, who added to their surroundings. Upon Mrs. Foster’s death in 1930, the 5.5-acre site was bequeathed to the City & County of Honolulu as a public garden. Foster Botanical Garden opened to the public in November 1931 with Doctor Harold Lyon as is the first director. (Dr. Lyon introduced 10,000 new types of trees and plants to the Islands over a span of 27 years.)
The garden was placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places in 1988 and served as the setting for several Hollywood films and TV shows. To preserve the garden’s historic collection, visitors are not allowed to pick any part of a growing plant or remove any plant material from the garden.
Foster Botanical Garden is located at 50 North Vineyard Boulevard in downtown Honolulu. Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. (Closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.) Guided tours are offered Monday through Friday at 1 p.m., and by appointment.