A standout at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kauai, Brighamia insignis looks like a baseball bat with a cabbage on top, ready for a cameo in the next Jurassic Park movie. Similar discoveries are everywhere at the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s two Kauai sites—Limahuli on the north shore and McBryde Garden on the south shore. In the Lawai Valley’s McBryde Garden, you can stroll through the largest collection of native Hawaiian flora outside of the wild. Take time to explore plant evolution along the Biodiversity Trail, which opened last year. At Limahuli, see ancient terraced gardens, replete with natives and “canoe” plants grown by Hawaii’s first settlers. Tropical plants are the heart and the lungs of our planet; we depend on them for air, food, shelter, and medicine. Yet extinction rates are highest among plants in the tropics, where 90 percent of the world’s plants grow. Limahuli’s upper preserve is filled with plants endemic to this island. The Brighamia on the Limahuli trail is descended from one of the last remaining wild plants, found clinging to a sheer sea cliff. Botanists would regularly rappel down the cliff to hand-pollinate the creamy yellow blooms, then grow the seeds back at the gardens. Although the plant is critically endangered in the wild, NTBG’s preservation work has been so successful that seed-grown plants are now sold at island nurseries.
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