The Lyon Arboretum is a natural sanctuary tucked away in the lush, tropical slopes of Manoa Valley, Honolulu. Spanning an impressive 194 acres, this tropical paradise is the only rainforest arboretum affiliated with a US university. Home to over 5,000 tropical plant species, some of which are rare and endangered, the Lyon Arboretum serves as a beacon of botanical research and conservation. This article explores the captivating world of this arboretum, its rich history, diverse collections, and its vital role in preserving the earth’s precious flora.


  • Lyon Arboretum serves as an important site for botanical research and conservation.
  • The arboretum features several captivating gardens, including the Stemmermann Memorial Garden, Mapes Memorial Garden, Young Memorial Garden, Betty Ho Memorial Garden, Native Hawaiian Garden, and the Beatrice H. Krauss Ethnobotanical Garden.
  • They offer guided tours, hiking trails, picnic areas, bird-watching opportunities, and educational workshops.


USA, Hawaii, Oahu, Honolulu. Lyon Arboretum landscape across Manoa Valley.
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Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is a breathtaking tropical rainforest nestled in Hawaii’s Mānoa valley. With an astonishing 13 feet of rainfall per year, this site is a true natural wonder. Established in 1918 by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association, our mission is to preserve native forests and restore watersheds. Dr. Harold Lyon, a passionate plant pathologist, understood the importance of protecting healthy forests and believed in the power of restoration for heavily damaged native forests.

In 1953, the University of Hawaiʻi took ownership of the land for a mere $1.00, dedicating it exclusively to serve as an arboretum and botanical garden. Dr. Lyon’s legacy lives on through a trust fund that ensures the Arboretum’s ongoing operations.

Initially serving as a research station from 1960 to 1990, the Arboretum was closed to the public until 1972. It was during this time that the Lyon Arboretum Association (now known as Friends of Lyon Arboretum) was formed to support and fund the operations. The association has also played a vital role in establishing education and outreach programs tailored for adults, children, interns, and guides. It introduced over 180 remarkable plant species to nurseries and the public.

The dedication to conservation has only grown stronger over the years. In the early 1990s, they expanded their horticulture efforts to include micropropagation of rare and endangered Hawaiian plants and initiated native forest restoration projects. Through the Hawaiʻi Rare Plant Program, they have become leaders in plant conservation.

Today, they continue to inspire and educate. Their adult classes attract an average of 1,500 individuals each year, and they welcome over 10,000 schoolchildren and teachers on field trips. They have even developed a specialized STEM curriculum to enhance their learning experience. In addition, the certified docents at Lyon Arboretum lead garden tours for 1,500 tourists on a yearly average.

Flora and Fauna Biodiversity of Lyon Arboretum

Large Ficus tree along trail at the Lyons Arboretum
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The magnificent Lyon Arboretum is home to 5,660 flourishing tropical plant species spread across 194 acres. With a special emphasis on native Hawaiian plants like Pritchardia spp. (palms), The arboretum is continually expanding its impressive collection. The more than 15,000 accessions it has mostly concentrate on the monocot groups of aroids, gingers, heliconias, palms, and gingers. The ethnobotanical, native ecosystems and Hawaiian parts of the gardens feature native and Polynesian domesticated and wild plants.

Additionally, the Lyon Arboretum has a functioning seed bank. Couple this with a flourishing bird population that includes exotic species like the Red-billed Leiothrix and the White-rumped Shama, and you have a true paradise for nature enthusiasts. And it’s not just about the numbers. The arboretum also houses plants of significant cultural value to the local community, such as the ‘awa (used in traditional Polynesian ceremonies) and the ‘ohe (used in the construction of traditional Hawaiian hula instruments). Each plant and each creature has a story to tell, and a role in the ecosystem, contributing to the rich tapestry of life that makes Lyon Arboretum a living museum of tropical biodiversity.

Exploring the Gardens at Lyon Arboretum

Beautifully trimmed boxwood bushes to the arboretum among various exotic plants
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The Stemmermann Memorial Garden 

As you step into the Lyon Arboretum, you are greeted by the tranquil beauty of the Stemmermann Memorial Garden. Situated just outside the Visitors Center, this small garden serves as the gateway to your botanical adventure. Named in honor of Dr. Tane Stemmermann, a renowned botanist and former Arboretum Director, the garden is a tribute to her enduring contributions to the field of botany. The rustling leaves, the melodious chirping of birds, and the soft fragrance of tropical flowers create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility.

The Mapes Memorial Garden

The Mapes Memorial Garden is another jewel within the Lyon Arboretum that deserves special attention. This charming garden is an ode to the beauty of Japanese-style landscaping, offering a serene environment for visitors to relax and contemplate. The garden showcases an intriguing blend of ornamental tropical and temperate plants, creating a dynamic and visually stunning landscape. As one wanders through the winding pathways, they are met with a delightful array of colors and textures, reflecting the diversity of foliage within this garden.

The Young Memorial Garden and Betty Ho Memorial Garden

The Young Memorial Garden and the Betty Ho Memorial Garden stand as beautiful tributes located downhill from the Visitors Center. The Young Memorial Garden, named in honor of the late Professor Harold Lyon, features a serene koi pond surrounded by an assortment of vibrant tropical plants. A few steps away, the Betty Ho Memorial Garden mesmerizes visitors with its collection of fragrant herbs and spices. Each garden tells a unique story, offering a quiet space for contemplation amidst the breathtaking beauty of nature.

The Native Hawaiian Garden

The Native Hawaiian Garden is a breathtaking collection of indigenous and endemic Hawaiian plants that flourish at the Arboretum’s elevation. It serves as a living laboratory, where researchers can study these unique species in their natural habitat. The plants in this garden provide essential genetic material required for propagation, aiding in the cultivation of new plants for both conservation and educational purposes. Signage and information plaques throughout the garden provide visitors with fascinating tidbits about the species they’re viewing, enabling them to identify these unique plants.

Beatrice H. Krauss Ethnobotanical Garden

Currently, the garden is home to a diverse array of over 60 species, vividly illuminating the rich tapestry of Hawaiian botany. Included in this impressive collection are the 27 “canoe plants,” which hold a significant place in Hawaii’s history. These plants were introduced to the Hawaiian islands by the Polynesian settlers who journeyed here over 1,700 years ago. Each canoe plant, from the coconut to the breadfruit, carries a narrative of survival, adaptability, and symbiosis with the island’s unique ecosystem. The Beatrice H. Krauss Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden not only provides a stunning visual experience but serves as a living chronicle of Hawaii’s botanical and cultural heritage.

Bromeliad Garden

The Bromeliad Garden at Lyon Arboretum is an enchanting display of the diverse members of the Bromeliad family, going well beyond the familiarity of the pineapple. This garden offers a unique chance for visitors to discover the wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors of these remarkable plants. From the dazzling and exotic flower spikes of the Aechmea and Billbergia to the striking foliage of the Neoregelia, each species adds a unique texture and vibrancy to the collection.

Things to Do

Hiking on the Lyons Arboretum trail
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Join Guided Tours

Participate in guided tours from the heart of Lyon Arboretum’s educational mission. These tours, led by the arboretum’s passionate and informed staff, offer visitors a chance to delve into the diversity and richness of the plant world. As you traverse the verdant paths, your guide will introduce you to a variety of plant species that call the arboretum home, explaining not only their biological characteristics but also their ecological significance. The tour also enlightens visitors on the arboretum’s committed efforts toward conservation, sharing how each plant contributes to the overall health of our planet.

Hike at the Waterfall And Upper Grounds Sections

Lyon Arboretum extends an invitation to explorers with its diverse network of trails, each leading to its unique spectacle. A walk through the Hawaiian Section is like stepping into a living museum, an ecological tableau where native Hawaiian flora thrives, offering a glimpse into the islands’ botanical past. The Economic Section offers a fascinating look at plants with significant economic uses, demonstrating the intertwined relationship between humanity and the plant world. Meanwhile, a hike along the ‘Aihualama trail leads to the enchanting ʻAihualama Falls. This hidden gem, tucked away amidst the verdant greenery, is a tranquil spot where the music of cascading water echoes the rhythmic symphony of nature inherent to Lyon Arboretum.

Enjoy a Peaceful Picnic

Bring your packed lunch and embark on a tranquil retreat amidst the captivating beauty of the arboretum. As you journey through the garden, the slope intensifies, leading you towards Inspiration Point. Although this trail is more strenuous compared to other walks within the arboretum, the rewarding view from the top is unrivaled. As you catch your breath, make a stop and savor your lunch, all while soaking in the panoramic view of the verdant surroundings. The harmonious symphony of nature serves as the perfect backdrop to your picnic, making it an experience worth cherishing.

Note: Visitors are refrained from having large picnics, sports, and engaging activities on other  lawn areas. It is best to coordinate and ask further information with the tour operators.

Indulge in Bird-watching

Lyon Arboretum is a haven for bird lovers. Bring your binoculars and immerse yourself in the avian spectacle that the arboretum presents. As a habitat for numerous native Hawaiian birds, it has become a hot spot for ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike. From the melodious songbirds that reside in the canopy to the vibrant parrots that flash across the sky, the arboretum offers unique opportunities to observe these beautiful creatures in their natural setting. This is not just a rewarding activity for birdwatchers, but also an educational experience that underscores the importance of preserving these natural habitats for our feathered friends.

Participate in the Various Educational Workshops and Classes 

At the heart of Lyon Arboretum’s educational mission are its diverse workshops, classes, and other learning opportunities aimed at all age groups. These programs provide hands-on experience in the fields of botany, horticulture, and environmental science. Their garden workshops provide a unique platform for participants to learn about the cultivation and care of various plant species. From introductory classes on understanding plant anatomy to advanced workshops on tropical horticulture, there’s an opportunity for everyone. Additionally, the Arboretum offers special programs for school visits, fostering an early appreciation for nature and conservation among the younger generation. These programs serve as an engaging platform to provide invaluable knowledge about the world’s biodiversity and our role in preserving it.

Opening Hours, Entrance Fees, and Best Time to Visit

To make the most out of your visit to the Lyon Arboretum, it’s crucial to know some practical information. The arboretum is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, excluding public holidays. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated to support the arboretum’s upkeep and educational programs. The best time to visit is early morning when the temperature is still cool, and the plants are at their most vibrant. Enjoy your enlightening visit to this remarkable bastion of nature and education!

Tips When Visiting

  • Dress Appropriately: Hawaii’s weather can be unpredictable, so plan for a mixture of sun, rain, and humidity. Wear light, breathable clothing and sturdy shoes for the trails. Don’t forget a raincoat or umbrella.
  • Stay Hydrated: Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated during your explorations.
  • Respect the Environment: Stay on the designated paths to protect the delicate ecosystem, and don’t forget to pack out whatever you bring in.
  • Plan Your Visit: Check the Arboretum’s schedule before your visit as it can vary based on the season or special events.
  • Capture the Moments: Don’t forget to bring your camera. The Arboretum is full of photographic opportunities.
  • Learn: Take advantage of the guided tours offered by knowledgeable staff to learn more about the diverse flora and fauna.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The Lyon Arboretum is nestled in the lush Mānoa Valley of Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s situated about five miles from the popular Waikiki tourist area.

The Lyon Arboretum houses over 5,000 types of tropical and subtropical plants, including palms, gingers, heliconias, and aroids. It also has one of the most extensive collections of Hawaiian native plants.

Yes, the Lyon Arboretum is open to the public. Visitors are welcome to explore the garden and participate in the numerous educational programs and workshops offered.

The mission of the Lyon Arboretum is to enhance the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of the tropical flora in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, through scientific research, education, and conservation.

Yes, the Lyon Arboretum offers guided tours that provide visitors with the opportunity to learn about the unique flora and rich history of the gardens.

The Lyon Arboretum offers a variety of educational programs, including botanical workshops, cultural demonstrations, nature walks, and school outreach programs, aimed to promote the understanding and appreciation of Hawaii’s rich biodiversity.

How to Get There

By Bus

If you’re choosing public transit, take TheBus number 5, which stops at the intersection of Manoa Road and Nipo Street, a short walk from the Arboretum’s entrance. The buses operate at regular intervals, providing easy access to and from Honolulu city center.

By Car

If you prefer driving, head for Manoa Road in Honolulu. The arboretum is at the end of Manoa Road. There’s a parking area available at the site, and from there, it’s a brief walk to the arboretum entrance. Please be aware that the parking lot fills up quickly during peak hours, so plan your journey accordingly.

Enjoy Nature and Contribute to the Lyon Arboretum

The Lyon Arboretum provides an unrivaled opportunity for education and conservation. The Arboretum emphasizes the importance of each visitor in conservation efforts. By exploring its trails and learning about its plant collections, you become an integral part of preserving this botanical treasure. Your visit not only enriches your knowledge and appreciation of nature but also contributes to the Arboretum’s mission of environmental preservation. So, immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of the Lyon Arboretum and become an active participant in safeguarding our planet’s botanical diversity.