Exceptional Trees of Hawai`i
Preserving the Historic Hawaiian Landscape

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an Exceptional tree?
2. When was the first Exceptional Tree selected?

3. How many Exceptional Trees are there in Hawaii?
4. Which county has the most Exceptional Trees?
5. Which is the oldest Exceptional Tree?
6. Which is the tallest Exceptional Tree?
7. Which is the largest Exceptional Tree?
8. How do I nominate an Exceptional Tree?
9. How do I report damage or abuse of an Exceptional Tree?
10. Do any of the Exceptional Trees have important Historical significance?


1. What is an Exceptional Tree?
"Exceptional Trees" are desinated by reason of age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality, endemic status or historical and cultural significance may be designated by the County Arborist Committee as worthy of preservation. The Exceptional Trees Ordinance Act 105 was enacted by the Hawaii State Legislature in 1975. This Act requires the counties, who possess primary control over land development, to safeguard the exceptional trees from injury or destruction. The listing process includes submission of a nomination form and presentation to the Arborist Advisory Committees.

2. When was the first Exceptional Tree selected?
The year was 1975. It all began in 1974, when the Mokihana Club, a small but dedicated and determined citizen's group on the island of Kauai, rallied community support to prevent the destruction of an exceptionally large and beautiful banyan tree. From this small effort grew the realization that legislation was needed to protect simliar trees throughout the state. The Hawaii State Legislature passed Act 105 in 1975.

3. How many Exceptional Trees are there in Hawaii?
It is estimated that there are more than 1000 exceptional trees in Hawaii. Currently, there are approximately 259 sites of exceptional trees listed in the registry. Twenty-nine on the Big Island, 156 on Oahu, 19 on Kauai, 48 on Mauai, 6 on Molokai, and 1 on Lanai. Some sites comprise many trees. Exceptional trees can be a grove of trees, a row or border planting or a single individual tree. More...

4. Which county has the most Exceptional Trees?
Honolulu County has the most exceptional trees, with more than 156 sites listed. Many can be found in Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Most are located on public property.

5. Which is the oldest Exceptional Tree?
The Orange tree found in South Kona is believed to be 216 years old, which may earn it the title of the oldest Exceptional Tree in Hawaii. The tree was planted in 1792 during Capt. George Vancouver's visit on the "HMS Discovery". Archibald Menzies, the surgeon and naturalist on aboard the Discovery is reported to have distributed citrus seedlings to several chiefs. Citrus fruit was known to treat scurvy, a one time common disease among sailors. On a return visit in 1793, Menzies reported about a dozen young trees were growing luuriantly in Kona.

6. Which is the tallest Exceptional Tree?
Currently, the tallest exceptional tree is believed to be the Mindano Gum (Eucalytpus delgupta) located at the Wahiawa Botanical Garden. A native to the tropical rainforest of the Philippines and New Guinea, these giants often attain heights of more than 200 feet. It is a useful timber species, but today only limited logging is permitted. Other notable tall trees include the Norfolk Pine (can grow up to 200'), Kapok (up to 150'), Bunya-Bunya Pine (up to 150') and Queensand Kauri (up to 150') at the Foster Botanical Garden.

7. Which is the largest Exceptional tree?
There are several Banyan trees which receive this award. The trees found at the International Marketplace, adjacent to the Judiciary building in downtown Honolulu, and along in Waikiki are equally impressive specimens as well as the trees found along the half mile stretch of Banyan Drive in Hilo. Forty-five trees were established in 1933. The last tree planting was by then Senator Richard Nixon in 1962. There are also several notable trees that are known to be the largest individual trees in the United States for their respective species. These include the Mammee Apple, Baobab, Queen Flower Tree, Cannonball Tree, Doum Palm, Nawa, Narra and Queensland Kauri.

8. How do I nominate an Exceptional Tree?
Contact your respective County Arborist Advisory Committee. The committee will provide you with a nomination form and can assist you in the nomination process. A nomination application will be reviewed by the County Arborist Advisory Committee. Trees are evaluated on the basis of age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality, endemic status, or historic and cultural significance. Download a PDF application for Honolulu County.

9. How do I report damage or abuse of an Exceptional Tree?
Contact your respective County Arborist Advisory Committee. Honolulu city ordinance prohibits removing or destroying exceptional trees without approval from the City Council, except in emergencies. Violators can be fined $1,000. Pruning requires a permit from the Department of Parks and Recreation.

10. Do any of the Exceptional Trees have important historical significance?
Many of the tees are historically significant and each with its unique story to tell. Some of these stories can be found in the registry database. One good example is the Bo Tree planted at Foster Botanical Garden. The story surrounding this tree tells us that while visiting India, Mary Foster, wife of the garden's founder decided to sponsor a yogi instructor (meditation specialist) to the United States. As a gift in return, the gentelman presented her with a cutting to propagate of the original Bo tree from Mahabodhi Temple, which is said to be the tree Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha sat under to reach enlightenment. The Bo Tree cutting was brought back from India and planted in the Foster Garden, where it has since grown into one of the larger trees there. The tree planted on the UH Manoa campus by the first graduating class in 1912 was propagated from a cutting of the Foster Botanica Garden tree. Most of the Buddhist temples in town have propagated cuttings of this Bo tree.

Another example, is the ancient kukui grove at Pu'u o Hoku Ranch, Moloka'i. The five acre, fifty plus foot specimens form a circular grove and are among the largest in the state. The grove is revered as a place of special mana and believed to be the burial site of Kahuna Lanikaula.

Kukui is one of the plants brought to Hawai'i in the great transoceanic canoes during the time of Polynesian migration from the south more than a thousand years ago. It was of importance in the Hawaiian economy being a source of a black dye, light wood for small canoe building and a gum for strengthening kapa. The white, oily seed was strung on coconut midribs to act as candles and used in the preparation of a condiment called 'inamona. Kukui oil was extracted to burn in stone lamps and used medicinally as a purgative. In pre-contact days, as now, kukui "nuts" were fashioned into leis. The tree figures in numerous Hawaiian legends and proverbs. Kukui is the official tree of the State of Hawai'i.

15 Specimens 106 Specimens 29 Specimens 6 Specimens 48 Specimens No Specimens
In partnership with the Outdoor Circle. Funding provided by the Kaulunani Urban and Community Forestry Program,
Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife and USDA Forest Service
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