Lyric Glossary - Tree museum
HomeNewsThe PainterThe MusicianBiographyLibraryChronologyResearchThe Banquet

Lyric Glossary

?? "Tree museum"   Printer-friendly version of this page

They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em

From the song "Big Yellow Taxi"

The following was submitted by Shane Mattison

Dave Donelly, reporter for Honolulu's Star-Bulletin, informs us that: "'Big Yellow Taxi', by the way, was written about Hawaii and the "tree museum" she sang about where they charged you to see the trees was Foster Botanical Garden"

New fees to see the trees?
$5.00 - General, 13 years and older
$3.00 - Resident of Hawaii, 13 years and older with ID
$1.00 - Child, 6 to 12 years old
FREE - Child, 5 years old and under (must be with adult)
$25.00 - Annual family pass

 The following is from the City of Honolulu's Park and Rec website
The island of O'ahu is graced by a collection of five botanical gardens that comprise the Honolulu Botanical Garden (HBG) system. Foster Botanical Garden is the oldest of the five gardens. The other four gardens include nearby Lili'uokalani Botanical Garden, Koko Crater Botanical Garden in Hawai'i Kai, Wahiawa Botanical Garden in Wahiawa, and Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kane'ohe.

Together, the five gardens represent four different ecological settings covering 650 acres of land. These internationally renowned plant collections contain a significant number of endangered Hawaiian and exotic species and have been described as the largest and oldest tropical collection in the United States. Due to the environmental differences among the five sites, the Honolulu Botanical Garden system covers a wide range of species from cool-moist to warm-wet to hot-dry. The multiple site system was developed several years ago in Honolulu and is now a national trend. As described by the City & County of Honolulu's Department of Parks and Recreation, the agency that oversees the HBG system, the mission of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens is to plan, develop, curate, maintain and study documented collections of tropical plants in an aesthetic setting for the purposes of:

Conservation: The Honolulu Botanical Gardens is dedicated to the conservation of flora from the topics and subtropics including native Hawaiian flora and endangered species.

Botany: Plants from various geographical areas of the world are cultivated within the Gardens to support the scientific study of plants.

Horticulture: Only the highest standards of horticultural practice are pursued in maintaining the plant collections of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens.

Education: Emphasis is placed on developing quality botanical interpretive programs that will ensure greater public awareness of world conservation issues and increase understanding of the value of plants.

Recreation: Recreational programs that are appropriate to a botanical garden yet responsive to community needs are being developed. In this way, these gardens can renew our communities by enriching the quality of life.

Foster Botanical Garden lies on 13.5 acres of gently sloping land on the mauka side of Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown on the Island of O'ahu. It is bounded by Nu'uanu Avenue, Nu'uanu Stream, the H-1 Freeway, and Vineyard Boulevard. Neighboring land uses around Foster Botanical Garden include religious facilities such as the Kuan Yin Temple and the Harris United Methodist Church, public facilities such as Kauluwela School, and public parks and spaces including Lili'uokalani Botanical Garden, River Street Promenade, College Walk Mall, and Kauluwela Park. There also are various commercial and office spaces (Zippy's, Borthwick Mortuary, Castle & Cooke Community Center), multi-family residential complexes such as Queen Emma Gardens, Keola Ho'onanea, and Kukui Gardens.

Foster Botanical Garden ranges in elevation from approximately 43 feet above mean sea level (MSL) at the Upper Terrace to about 12 feet above MSL near the parking entrance at Vineyard Boulevard. The average temperatures in Downtown Honolulu range from 68 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit with an average annual rainfall of approximately 30 to 40 inches, which ranges seasonally. Trades winds are generally from the northeast. Strong winds do occur at times in connection with storm systems moving through the area.

Average relative humidity ranges between 55 and 83 percent throughout the year and is typically the lowest during the summer months. Hundreds of different botanical species from around the world are present in the Garden's various collections, including 26 Exceptional Trees (ET) that are protected by Hawai'i State law (HRS Chapter 58) and City and County of Honolulu ordinance (ROH 41-13). These trees, as well as the other 50+ O'ahu trees with this designation, have been selected for protection and preservation due to their historic or cultural value, age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality, or endemic status. Foster Botanical Garden also houses the main offices for the City's Division of Botanical Gardens and the Friends of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens as well as a small botanical library and some propagation facilities. The Garden has been entered on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places (Site Number 80-14-1389) in 1988 and 1993, respectively.

History: In 1851, a young Prussian physician by the name of William Hillebrand found his way to Hawai'i in search of a warm climate hospitable to his health problems. In the care of an American doctor, Dr. Wesley Newcomb and his stepdaughter, Anna Post, Hillebrand recovered remarkably well. A year later, Hillebrand married Ms. Post and soon after, began amassing land in Nu'uanu. He built a house for his family and continued to purchase and lease land for his expanding garden. Hillebrand's love for horticulture helped him create a legendary collection known for its beauty and diversity. He began his gardens by gathering local species and convincing sea captains to bring him outside specimens from their travels. By 1854 he had reportedly collected 160 different species of plants in his gardens. These plants and the lands on which they were cultivated were the beginnings of the Foster Botanical Gardens of today. Hillebrand had a successful career as a physician in the islands and eventually was granted the position of personal physician to the royal family, and later the directorship of the Queen's Hospital at its founding in 1859. Later, connections with the Hawai'I Bureau of Immigration and his earlier successes allowed him to travel to Asia in 1865.

These trips focused on a search for new labor sources for the growing sugar industry and a possible means to control leprosy which was afflicting the islands. However, during these trips he also sent back plant, bird, and mammal specimens that he thought would be desirable in Hawai'i as part of a commission funded by the Planters Association and the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society. In later years, Hillebrand became more focused on native Hawaiian plants and spent his time traveling to other Hawaiian islands for botanical exploration and making contacts with local botanists who were able to send him specimens. Years later in 1871, Hillebrand and his family unexplainably left the islands and moved to Europe. He spent his final years in Germany, but continued to work on his Hawaiian flora collection. By the time of his death in 1886, he had finished writing a book entitled Flora of the Hawaiian Islands, a culmination of his work with native Hawaiian plants. The book was published in 1888 by his son and dedicated on behalf of Hillebrand to the Hawaiian people. His Hawaiian home was rented during his time away from the islands until 1880 when it was sold to a neighbor, a young entrepreneur from Nova Scotia and his part-Hawaiian wife, Thomas and Mary Foster.

Thomas Foster ran a ship building business in Rhode Island with his brother before the two of them decided to try their hand in the Pacific shipping business. After moving to Hawai'i in 1857, Foster met and married Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson, the eldest daughter of James Robinson, the prominent local ship builder, in 1861. With financial help from Mary's father, the Fosters bought property just mauka of the Hillebrands' driveway near the intersection of Nu'uanu Avenue and School Street. There, they built a modest residence and settled down. Years later in 1880 when Hillebrand decided not to return to Hawai'i, he sold the house and gardens to the Fosters.

In 1884, the Fosters removed the existing Hillebrand house and built a mansion with a 5-story tower which would allow Thomas to see his passing ships. Mary enjoyed the gardens and spent much of her time renovating them. One of her contributions was the building of an auwai, or canal system for irrigation. The gardens remained a place for the Foster family to play and relax.

Thomas passed away five years later in 1889 and left Mary alone. For several years, Mary chose to live at her sister's home. With the Nu'uanu house empty, the Foster gardens fell into a state of disrepair. Mary later returned, but found the tangles of the garden appealing and refused to have them thinned. She continued to add to the gardens and is responsible for the exceptional Bo Tree found in the garden today, a specimen propagated from what is believed to be the oldest historical tree in the world.

Another figure of great importance to Foster Botanical Garden was Harold L. Lyon. Lyon moved to Hawai'i from Minnesota in 1907 to work for the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association (HSPA). Besides working on projects to cure diseases afflicting sugar cane, Lyon also worked on projects that sought to reforest the watershed areas of the island, an issue important to sugar planters. Lyon was a botanist who specialized in trees and it is understandable how the towering trees of the Foster gardens enticed him to seek out Mary Foster and develop a formal relationship with the widow.

Through encouragement from Lyon, Mary decided the gardens were special, yet were in need of constant maintenance to repair years of neglect. In an agreement which helped the sugar planters, but was also an opportunity for Mary to ensure Lyon would remain on-site to supervise her gardens, Mary leased the HSPA nearly two acres of her property fronting Vineyard Street as an addition to their nursery. Her only stipulation required that the HSPA gardens were made to complement her already existing gardens. As a result, the grounds were graded and one of the first HSPA experiment stations was established at the property. By 1925, Lyon had developed what he considered the best-equipped plant nursery in the Hawaiian Islands.

On December 19, 1930, Mary Foster died at the age of 86. She bequeathed her home and gardens (approximately 5 acres) to the City of Honolulu. She placed a stipulation on the transferal of the property that required the City and County of Honolulu to "accept and forever keep and properly maintain the (gardens) as a public and tropical park to be known and called Foster Park" and left $10,000 for initial improvements. While this was a generous gift, it was one that the city had a problem accepting. Economic times were slow in Hawai'i and the City was not equipped to maintain the park. In an unorthodox agreement, it was finally decided that the HSPA would manage the park, seeing as they were using part of it for their nursery already, and Lyon would become director for the garden. The Department of Parks was able to accept the gift and Foster Park and Gardens opened its doors to the public on November 30, 1931. Lyon was responsible for many improvements to the grounds including thinning of the tangled overgrown areas, replacement of the auwai with sprinkler systems, and the construction of a house for the resident superintendent from remnants of the Foster house. One of the main attractions at the Garden and the pride and joy of Lyon was the magnificent orchid collection. Built from generous contributions from the community and the efforts of Lyon, the extensive collection was housed in a large glass greenhouse Lyon ordered from the Metropolitan Greenhouse Corporation of Brooklyn, NY. Also created during those first years of the park was the Palm Garden. Through years of service to the park, Lyon is credited for designing Foster Botanical Garden as we know it today.

For the next twenty years the garden slowly accumulated more properties through the purchase of the HSPA nursery and several lots along School Street. Also, in the 1950's, several acres of land were received from the Bishop Estate along Nu'uanu Stream. In 1957, Dr. Harold Lyon passed away and his position as Director of the Gardens was filled by Paul R. Weissich. Weissich, a landscape architect from California, moved to Hawai'i in January 1950 and joined the staff of the City's Parks and Recreation Department. As Director, Weissich organized Foster Botanical Garden through the creation of a master plan which set goals for future growth. His plans were altered over the years, however, as small sections of land were added and then taken away from the Gardens due to road expansions along Vineyard and Nu'uanu and the construction of the H-1 Freeway which removed a 140-foot wide strip along its mauka boundary. Eventually, in 1964, the Garden reached its present confines with the addition of a two-acre parcel on the corner of Vineyard Boulevard and Nu'uanu Avenue, an area that Weissich developed as the Economic Garden. That year also saw the opening of the Harold L. Lyon Orchid Garden, a memorial to the late director's efforts in cultivating orchids. A final specialized collection was added a year later in 1965 called the Prehistoric Glen, which features a large collection of primitive plants relating to the Coal Age.

Weissich retired as Director of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens in 1989. Over the next ten years, Michael S. Kristensen held the office. Various educational programs and fundraising events such as the Annual Plant Sale and A Midsummer Night's Gleam have become local traditions at the Garden. Heidi Bornhorst, the current Director, was born and raised in Hawai'i and was appointed as Director in February 1999. She has worked intensively with native Hawaiian plants and continues to expand the various programs and collections at the five City botanical gardens.

More information on "Tree museum"

 Foster Botanical Garden Master Plan