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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 2, 2002

Arboretum seeks help for crumbling cottages

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

A group of cottages used for education, research and volunteer services at the University of Hawai'i's Lyon Arboretum is in desperate need of repair, and the arboretum's nonprofit association has started a $250,000 fund-raising drive to renovate the old buildings.

Lyon Arboretum director Alan Teramura and maintenance worker Ron James look over work being done on one of the old cottages, originally built in the 1920s for plantation workers. The arboretum uses them for research, education and volunteer services.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The five cottages, which were built in the 1920s as homes for plantation workers, have extensive damage from termites, mold and rot.

Floors are warped and steps missing. Many walls and roofs have holes you can see right through, letting in wind and rain and threatening the rare plants and books stored inside.

Alan Teramura, director of the arboretum and a professor of botany at UH-Manoa, said money for the renovation project has been requested from the university, but with more than $100 million in deferred maintenance for the college system, the cottage repairs are a low priority.

"The UH is doing its part for maintenance here," Teramura said. "They recently resurfaced our road and are putting in a new septic system, but we knew we had to do something now to protect these programs and sent out an appeal letter to all our members."

The 194-acre Lyon Arboretum is in the back of Manoa Valley and contains more than 5,000 tropical plant species, including one of the largest palm collections found in a botanical garden.

How you can donate

• Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Lyon Arboretum Association, 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, or call 988-0464 for more information.

One cottage in need of work is used as a tissue culture lab where staff members save plants from extinction by preserving them in test tubes until they can be re-established in their native habitats.

Researcher Nellie Sugii calls the lab a "genetic safety net" and said samples of more than 120 endangered plant species are preserved there. But a consistent temperature and light source are needed to keep the tissues alive, and with holes in the building creating an inconsistent environment, some plants have already died.

"Some of these plants are extinct in the world and only exist in a tissue culture," Sugii said. "I don't like to lose plants. If we lose them, they are gone forever."

Another cottage is used for the arboretum's reference library of rare and out-of-print books and as headquarters for the Children's Education Program, which brings 4,000 students a year to the garden to learn about Hawai'i's plant life. Other cottages are used to store an extensive plant data collection and to accommodate visiting scientists and summer interns.

"The damage is so substantial in some places that we considered replacing the structures," Teramura said. "But we want to preserve the history and culture of Manoa and the arboretum."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.