Driving home along Mānoa Road deep into the lush Mānoa Valley, I often noticed an intriguing looking property with a large Tudor styled home & historic atmosphere. I later found out that this was the historic Cooke family residence, a preserved landmark set on 3 acres that also includes an ancient Hawaiian heiau (stone temple) & native Hawaiian plant garden.
I approached the Mānoa Heritage Center earlier this year to do a photo series in the garden of their historic landmark property & was welcomed to join along a school tour to document & take notes as well as return to more closely photograph aspects of the property.
Touring the property with a school group & docent well versed in the historic & cultural uses of plants throughout the garden, I was struck by the richness of purpose of many of the plants cultivated here. Native plants are determined as having arrived here by wing, wave or wind & the garden is home to several of them, cared for well & also serving the purpose to educate all who tour the grounds. Native plant specialist Anthony Ortiz, a caretaker of the gardens, later walked around with me, explaining the cultivation & uses of many of the plants while I photographed them.
The cultural uses of the plants in the gardens at the Mānoa Heritage Center are manifold: ropes, medicinal, tools, dyes, fabrics, fishhooks and more. Photographing them was interesting & a pleasure, not only to learn about the purposes they serve but also for their unique & beautiful features.
Children’s hands on volcanic rock walls during school tour
The ancient Heiau dedicated to agricultural God Lono
An extremely important plant in Hawaiian culture, Taro is a staple food source as well as a plant rich with spiritual symbolism. Mythologically & culturally, the plant is literally the elder brother of mankind, nourishing & caring for man. In return, mankind must care for & respect the kalo. Boiled leaves are eaten like spinach and steamed taro mashed in poi.
The kukui is the Hawai’i state tree, a.k.a. the “candlenut tree.” The nut, 80% oil, yields many uses. Historically the oil was an source of lighting fuel & used for lamp oil. The nut meat was also used cooked as a relish & today you can find Kukui nut sold for skin care as well as cooking. The nut also has historic use medicinally (as a laxative) & for dyes.
Introduced from Polynesia, the Noni plant has historic significance medicinally on the Hawaiian Islands. The fruit was used as a poultice & the leaves used to ease pains of muscels & joints when applied with heated stones & massage. The bark had historic use as a yellow, red (when mixed with burnt color) & blue (when mixed with sea water) dye. Today, Noni juice is often drank for it’s health benefits.
Mānoa Valley View
Wauke (above & below)
Introduced by Polynesians, the fibrous bark of this tree was useful as a material that when pounded became soft durable kapa. Kapa has multiple uses including clothes, wrapping, flags, bedding & ceremonial uses.
Endemic species of Hawaiian Hibiscus
Reference: Notes on plants made with the assistance of “A Selection of Plants & Their Uses: Native Plants & Polynesian Introduced Plants,” From the Gardens of Mānoa Heritage Center