Lyon Arboretum was established in 1918 by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association to demonstrate the value of watershed restoration, test tree species for reforestation and collect plants of economic value. In 1953, it became part or the University of Hawai'i. Today, Lyon Arboretum continues to develop its extensive tropical plant collection emphasizing native Hawaiian species, tropical Palms, Aroids, Ti, Taro, Heliconia and Ginger.
It is hard to imagine that the arboretum grounds, now occupied by lush vegetation, was once a wasteland of grasses and thickets. The year was 1918. World War I had just ended. Hawaii had been untouched by the war, but another kind of crisis of enormous proportions had devastated the Hawaiian landscape. The land appeared bare, almost devoid of vegetation. The alien invaders were not humans, but free-ranging cattle.
The story of The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is one of reconstruction. What is now Lyon Arboretum started in 1918 as a forest-restoration project by the Hawaiian Sugar Planter's Association Experiment Station (HSPA) on land that was denuded by cattle. The HSPA acquired 124 acres of land and put Dr. Harold L. Lyon, a young botanist from Minnesota, in charge. Dr. Lyon brought in and planted some 2,000 or so tree species on the grounds. The facility came to be known as the Manoa Arboretum.
Dr. Lyon persuaded the HSPA to convey the Manoa Arboretum to the University of Hawaii in 1953, with the provision that the facility must be used as an arboretum and botanical garden in perpetuity. When Dr. Lyon passed away in 1957, the Board of regents renamed the facility the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum in honor of the man who founded it and nurtured its growth for nearly four decades. Today, a bronze plaque in the upper part of the arboretum commemorates Dr. Lyon.
After the University took over, the emphasis shifted from forestry to horticulture. During the last thirty years nearly 2,000 ornamental and econmically useful plants have been introduced to the grounds. More recently the arboretum has dedicated itself to becoming a center for the rescue and propagation of rare and endangered native Hawaiian plants.
The dictionary defines an arboretum as a place where trees and shrubs are grown for scientific or educational purposes. Today, the Lyon Arboretum does more than that. It conducts research, reaches out to the public through its educational program, serves the public in numerous ways, and yet remains an eden of peace in a harried world.