New Experience on Evolution of Plants

The National Tropical Botanical Garden has announced the opening of a new experience at its flagship McBryde Garden in south Kaua‘i. The Biodiversity Trail, a winding 800-foot walk designed to tell the story of plant evolution over the last 450 million years, is now part of self-guided tours of the garden.

Focusing on plant biodiversity and botanical evolution, one end of the trail leads visitors through a shady “moss tunnel” full of swirling mist where simple plant forms tell the story of plant life 450 million years ago. Traveling through time about 10 million years with each step, visitors witness plants becoming more complex. Mosses give way to ferns which lead to cycads and early palms as time passes. Through the plants and easy-to-understand interpretive signage, the trail illustrates how plants transformed the planet and that all living things are interconnected and reliant upon one another, impacted by the loss of other life forms.

Andy Jasper, Director of Southshore Gardens for NTBG, points out that the area will help engage a wider audience with stories about NTBG’s work. A good story has three parts – a beginning that introduces the characters, a central problem to overcome, and an uplifting ending, Jasper related. The Biodiversity Trail is no exception. About halfway through the trail, garden visitors enter an area that is a little different, an awkward, industrial place full of dials and pressure gauges area that highlights how the planet is under pressure from various environmental threats. The final area is referred to as “redemption,” an encouraging place that shows how heroic efforts in research and conservation can result in a more positive future. Here plant restoration of at-risk species, such as the work in NTBG’s remote preserves or collaborations with other organizations, demonstrates how we can protect our planet.

“We want every visitor to this garden to feel like they have been on a journey of discovery, and leave feeling uplifted and inspired. We hope they leave feeling more connected – in the way that all life on the planet is – not only here in Hawai‘i, but throughout the world,” says Jasper.

The trail builds with a crescendo of floral color and form, ending with plantings of hybrid hibiscus, anthuriums, orchids, and a Spanish lime tree laden with air plants. One spot tells the story of “Darwin’s orchid,” which illustrates the fundamental relationship between plants and their pollinators and serves as an evocative reminder that preserving biodiversity is also about protecting life-dependent relationships.

The Biodiversity Trail is McBryde’s first fully accessible trail and is part of NTBG’s larger long-term McBryde Garden Renewal Project which includes expanded interpretation, enhanced access and signage, and added “creature comfort” infrastructure.

NTBG celebrated its 50th year on August 19 of this year, opening the trail as part of its anniversary celebration. “As we enter our next 50 years, we want to increase our efforts in engaging the public to join us in saving plant life,” says NTBG’s Director and CEO Chipper Wichman. “We have excelled at building

our botanical collections for scientific research, conservation, and professional education and will continue to do that. But unless mankind understands the importance of plants in all life it will be an uphill battle to save biodiversity. We’ve created beautiful gardens in stunning settings for that to happen.”

McBryde Garden is located in the Lāwa‘i Valley, adjacent to NTBG’s Allerton Garden. The self-guided tour runs daily, with seven departures throughout the day from its Southshore Visitors Center near Spouting Horn into the valley. Tours of these gardens are open to children of all ages and can be booked at or by calling (808) 742-2623.