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Tropical discovery on Kauai.

Cupped in a lush valley on the fertile south shore of Kauai--Hawaii's "Garden Isle"--the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden is coming of age. Its plantings (see map) are young, but the nation's only Congressionally chartered tropical botanical garden is an interesting side trip for island visitors.

This month it will be easier to join a tour: volunteer docents now lead 2-hour tours four mornings a week. Still, since only 60 visitors can be accommodated per week, this is a plan-ahead excursion.

Most tours sample two very different gardens that share the natural greenhouse of Lawai Valley: the hardworking research collections of the 186-acre Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden (PTBG), and the gracious older gardens of the 100-acre Allerton Estate.

The botanical garden is primarily an educational and scientific research center, chartered by a 1964 Act of Congress to collect, study, and cultivate tropical plants with an emphasis on rare and endagered species (see Letter from Sunset, page 232). The project is funded entirely by private donations. Work on the PTBG grounds began in 1970.

The gardens are near Poipu resorts. Take Poipu Road to Koloa, then turn left onto Koloa Road. Drive 2-1/2 miles to Hailima Road; turn left. It's 1/2 mile to the visitor center, where the tours start.

Jouncing down the rutted access road in a 12-passenger van, you'll be quickly aware of the gardens' youth and functional design. Surrounded by shimmering fields of sugar cane and verdant patches of over-grown jungle, the gardens themselves have an almost park-like feeling. Broad, close-cropped lawns are dotted here and there with small trees and shrubs; even in the few established plantings, landscaping defers to efficiency.

Young, yes, but some of the tropicals here offer magnificent displays of seasonal fruits and flowers. And young plantings have advantages: you can bend over to study the crown of the rare double coconut from the Seychelles, Lodoicea maldivica (its 50-pound coconuts are the largest seeds in the plant kingdom). Or lean close to catch the delicate fragrance of Hibiscus waimeae, a Hawaiian native and one of the world's rare scented hibiscus.

Following routes shown at left, tours pass most of the major collections, including 500 species of palms, 50 varieties of bananas, and 100 of the 15 species of exotic-flowered coral tree (Erythrina). From the nursery, a path leads into the cool green Allerton Estate gardens.

This end of the valley served as a retreat for Queen Emma (bride of King Kamehameha IV) in the 1880s, then was cleared for agriculture before being purchased by Robert Allerton in 1938. Using ancient Hawaiian taro terraces and old stone walls as key landscape elements, the Allertons directed springs and streams into pools and fountains graced by sculpture.

You are never far from the sound of water. Paths shaded by leafy umbrellas of monkeypod and tamarind trees wind through emerald groves of bamboo, past flaming thickets of red-flowered ginger. In spite of the ravages of Hurricane Iwa in 1982, rubber trees planted in 1940 still tower nearly a hundred feet overhead.

Docents on Tuesday tours walk you down to the houses at Lawai Bay. Here are Queen Emma's cottage (she planted the bougainvillea swathing the hill behind the cottage) and the open-veranda home of Allerton's son, architect John Gregg Allerton. These gardens will some day become part of the PTBG complex.

Tours of the PTBG collections and the Allerton Estate are Tuesday at 9 and 10:15 and Thursdays at 9. Tours of the PTBG gardens only are Wednesdays and Saturdays at 9. Tickets cost $10 for all ages. Advance reservations are a must: call (808) 332-8131 or write to PTBG, Box 340, Lawai, Kauai, Hawaii 96765.

A basic family membership costs just $25; in addition to free tours you receive a quarterly newsletter. Members can also arrange to visit satellite gardens and preserves on other islands. The most developed is Kahanu Gardens on Maui, with breadfruit, coconut, and loulu palm collections. It is also the site of Piilanihale Heiau, the largest ancient Hawaiian place of worship in the islands.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Feb 1, 1984
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