The Amy Greenwell Garden Ethnobotanical Guide to Native Hawaiian Plants & Polynesian-Introduced Plants

Bishop Museum Press is happy to announce the long-awaited 2021 reprinting of the Amy Greenwell Garden Ethnobotanical Guide to Native Hawaiian Plants & Polynesian-Introduced Plants by Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln.

Hawaiʻi, the most isolated and ecologically diverse archipelago on the planet, is home to truly spectacular and unique plants. Colorful photography and concise ethnobotanical information make this book a perfect introduction to Hawaiʻi’s unique flora. 

“Tucked away in Kealakekua, Hawai‘i, is the Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, a living monument to one of the outstanding women of the twentieth century here in Hawai‘i,” writes book author Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln. “Though the Garden commemorates her name and her property, her life history and accomplishments are rarely commented on, despite their rather astounding nature.”

Amy Beatrice Holdsworth Greenwell (1920-1974) was one of the 26 grandchildren of Henry Nicholas Greenwell, a soldier-turned-merchant who arrived in Hawai‘i in 1850. As an accomplished researcher with an appreciation for the natural environment and Hawaiian culture, she made significant contributions to Hawaiʻi’s scholarship. An observant and intelligent student, Amy attended Stanford University. She halted her studies in 1941 to serve as a Red Cross nurse at Queen’s Hospital during WWII. Following, she worked with botanist and conservationist Otto Degener at the New York Botanical Garden and co-authored one of the authoritative volumes on Hawaiian plants, Flora Hawaiiensis. “Future generations may well shed a tear and be astounded how quickly and thoroughly their forebears wrecked the native vegetation in Hawaii Nei, the most unique natural Botanical Garden on the face of the Earth(Introduction to Book 5 of Flora Hawaiiensis, 1957).

Amy returned to Hawaiʻi in 1947 where she continued to explore her passions for the natural environment and Hawaiian culture. She would become a friend of Bishop Museum through her participation in its archaeological projects and is credited with discovering some ancient fishhooks at the now-famous Pu‘uali‘i sand dune site in 1953. She also dabbled in other sciences such as meteorology and speleology, and gave regular weekly radio broadcasts. Despite her multidisciplinary nature, she was best known as a botanist and published numerous articles on both native and other tropical plants. Her publications included such titles as Taro—With Special Reference to its Culture and Uses in Hawaii, Rose Growing in Hawaii, and Hawaiian Violets.

Greenwell’s passion for Hawaiʻi’s unique flora is reflected in her efforts later in her life to transform her Kealakekua property into what she termed a “pre-Cookian” garden. Here, she envisioned planting native and Polynesian-introduced plants among intact remnants of Hawaiian agricultural formations. “In hindsight, both organizations can see that Amy’s vision of a garden that connected Hawaiian plants with Hawaiian people was absolutely groundbreaking back in 1974,” says Maile Melrose, Board President of Friends of Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. Today, under the care of the Friends of the Amy Greenwell Garden, her Garden remains an educational and cultural resource for locals and visitors alike.

Mahalo to author Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln and to our community partners, the @friends_of_amygreenwellgarden, for their continued work to preserve the legacy of Amy Greenwell and her Garden.

Learn more about Greenwell’s legacy with the Amy Greenwell Garden Ethnobotanical Guide to Native Hawaiian Plants & Polynesian-Introduced Plants. Available at BishopMuseumPress.org, Shop Pacifica at Bishop Museum, and the Garden.