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Our Mission

To inspire và cultivate the conservation of tropical plant biodiversity, and connect it lớn the culture of Hawaiʻi through education và research.

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Our history: 100 years và beyond!

The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is located in a zone of tropical rainforest with an annual rainfall average of 13 feet (4 meters). The site lies in the ili (land division) of Haukulu & ʻAihualama, in Mānoa valley, on the island of Oʻahu. Several man-made features, including stone platforms, loʻi and the occurrence of many Polynesian-introduced plants attest to the importance of the site

Alteration of the forest by early farmers was followed by post-contact agriculture. Free-ranging cattle grazed their way up the valley. By the early 1900s, native forest had been heavily impacted in Mānoa & in other watersheds throughout the Islands. Without healthy forest cover, rainwater flowed to the ocean rather than recharging the ground water table, the primary source of potable water in Hawaiʻi.

This loss was of special concern to the Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA) because sugar required great quantities of water. Dr. Harold Lyon, a plant pathologist hired by HSPA, concluded that healthy forests should be preserved, that heavily damaged native forests could not recover on their own, & that damaged watersheds could be restored with introduced plants.


In 1918, the HSPA came lớn a verbal agreement with landowner Fred Harrison on the purchase of 124 acres of land in upper Mānoa – khổng lồ serve as a kiểm tra site lớn evaluate trees that could be used for reforestation throughout the islands, & to demo sugarcane seedlings. Clearing and out-planting of sugarcane began that year, and the deed was officially signed in 1919.

The demo site became the basis of the Mānoa Arboretum. Full scale planting began in 1920, and was essentially completed by 1945. In the late 1940’s HSPA had achieved their reforestation research objectives & no longer needed the site. Dr. Lyon strongly believed that Hawaiʻi needed a botanical garden and saw this as an opportunity for the state of Hawaiʻi .

In 1953 the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaiʻi accepted the land from HSPA for fee of $1.00. The deed stipulated that the University “…use, maintain và preserve the granted premises as an arboretum and botanical garden only.” Lyon used his own money to lớn fund Arboretum operations. When Dr. Lyon died in 1957, he left part of his estate in trust, lớn help fund the Arboretum in perpetuity.

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Seven days later, the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents renamed the Mānoa Arboretum the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum. A plaque located along the main trail commemorates the many contributions of Dr. Lyon.


In the 1960s collections were assembled, trees inventoried, & the main greenhouse was built. Until 1972, the Arboretum served as a research station & was closed khổng lồ the public. In 1972 the idea for a community tư vấn and fundraising group arose, resulting in the formation of the Lyon Arboretum Association (today, Friends of Lyon Arboretum). Lyon Arboretum staff và volunteers established education and outreach programs, which were later expanded to lớn include adult education, children’s education, internships và a guides program. These programs have been a major factor in bringing the public to the Arboretum. Plant sales added lớn revenues, & events brought more people to enjoy the Arboretum. Groups of volunteers helped maintain the grounds, made crafts, lei, jams & jellies, and helped in the book và gift shop. Various theme gardens were established: including the Beatrice Krauss Ethnobotany Garden, the Herb Garden, Economic Section, Palm Section, & the Garden.

Researchers from around the world have taken advantage of the large living collections, particularly palms, heliconias, gingers, ethnobotanical and native plants. Other researchers have studied stream life, birds, insects, climate, soils và hydrology. Horticulturists at Lyon have developed new varieties of rhododendron, gingers, calathea, hibiscus, and alocasia. The Arboretum has evaluated and released over 180 plant introductions lớn nurseries & the public.


In the early 1990s the horticulture aspect was expanded khổng lồ include micropropagation of rare & endangered plants, and native forest restoration began. This tremendously important Hawaiʻi Rare Plant Program has greatly expanded và is leader in the field of plant conservation. Several University of Hawaiʻi departments utilize the garden for research or instruction. High school and college groups, Community service groups, corporate groups, và others have participated in large service projects that help maintain the Arboretum while providing opportunities for learning và community service.

In recent years an annual average of 1,500 adults attend the Arboretum’s adult classes; & over 10,000 schoolchildren và teachers visit on field trips using STEM curriculum developed specifically for the Arboretum. Lyon Arboretum’s trained docents guide an annual average of 1,500 visitors on garden tours. Recently several ancient loʻi (taro growing field) were reopened. Wood harvested from the grounds has been used lớn create traditional canoes, tools & other educational & cultural resources, và many classes that perpetuate cultural knowledge are offered.

Throughout its history Lyon Arboretum has worked khổng lồ bring beauty, knowledge & an appreciation of- & respect for nature to its many audiences. The Arboretum is a gem, an important resource for both the University of Hawaiʻi và the community at large. Harold Lyon’s 1956 words from his “Honolulu Can Have a Botanical Garden” article still ring true: “Here then is a golden opportunity to build in upper Mānoa Valley, a vast botanical garden of native and introduced plants và at the same time carry through a project in water conservation that would prove of immense value to lớn Honolulu.”

The future of Lyon Arboretum

View our Strategic Plan for 2018-2023

Responsibilities of Lyon Arboretum

Develop a major resource center for tropical plants with Hawaiʻi/Pacific Basin/Asian focus by enhancing our living plant collectionMake our collections & information available khổng lồ a broad clientele including students, researchers, industry, & the general public by performing & disseminating the results of research, by appropriate outreach and educational activities, và through plant và seed exchange programs.Serve as an outdoor laboratory for school & university students and classes.Import, identify, improve through breeding, and introduce khổng lồ the public plants useful for horticulture, research, education, or industry.Preserve and propagate germplasm of endangered plant species, especially those native lớn Hawaiʻi. Special attention is given khổng lồ the use of micropropagation and tissue culture công nghệ in conservation of plants.Develop a research and training program in ecosystem restoration.Serve as a university field station for terrestrial biology và stream biology.

Information Assistance

If you need assistance accessing information on our website, contact us by calling the Main Office at (808) 988-0456