A bit of Africa in the heart of Waikiki
By Heidi Bornhorst
One of the greatest assets in Waikiki is the Honolulu Zoo. One of the best exhibits, pointed out to me by dedicated volunteer docent Carol Loose, is the vast African savanna exhibit with kudus (large African antelopes), Darma gazelles, an Egyptian goose, secretary birds, crown cranes and an elegant flock of Guinea fowl.
I looked closely at the grassland with the help of the akamai eyes of Loose. We could see Diamond Head, all the mammals and birds, giraffes topping the trees from the neighboring exhibits and many exotic flowering trees. It was hard to imagine that we were in the heart of Waikiki, or anywhere near civilization.
The animals interact naturally in this well-designed and maintained exhibit. Complementing the exhibits is the "Karibuni Park Headquarters," an educational display area manned by Loose and other volunteers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Loose first volunteered as a zoo docent in 1972. She had to work at other things for a while and in the meantime she visited Africa four times. "Africa captured my heart," she said as she stood under the shady trees.
Sausage tree seeds from Africa
Sausage trees are an interesting tree that comes from Africa. There are a few of them around town: in the Foster and Ho'omaluhia botanical gardens, at Ala Moana Beach Park, on the Hale Koa Hotel grounds and at the zoo. There is an exceptional sausage tree, recognized and protected by law, in Kailua.
Sausage trees have maroon flowers that are large, open-faced and full of pollen. In the wild, they are pollinated by bats, which feed on the flowers and distribute the pollen at night. (Our native Hawaiian bat, the ope'ape'a, is an insect feeder that is very rare and secretive. It does not pollinate the sausage tree.)
Sausage trees, or Kigelia aetheopica, belong to the Bignoniaceae family along with gold trees, jacaranda, African tulip trees and Tacomas.
Animal keeper Jolie Horikawa cut one open for Loose and the visitors. I was intrigued to see what these woody fruit looked like on the inside. (I had meant to do this many a time but never had a bolo knife handy when it was needed.) The fruit is almost woody inside with large seeds embedded in the solid flesh. It smelled kind of 'ono, but references say Africans use the sausage tree fruit as medicine.
The sausage trees in the zoo originally came from the Honolulu Botanical Gardens with scientific documentation. Just like animal records are kept, we keep detailed records of the provenance of plants. The trees were growing wild, collected in Africa, planted at Ho'omaluhia and the seedlings shared with the zoo many years ago.
What's in bloom
While you are appreciating the natural beauty at the zoo, you also can visit one of our most majestic and historical parks: Kapi'olani Park. Many old and lovely trees grow there.
Pink, golden and the famed rainbow shower trees the official street tree of Honolulu are putting on a magnificent show this year. They are all in the bean family, Fabaceae, and in the genus Cassia.
Walking through Kapi'olani Park is the best way to enjoy them, but they also are lovely as a drive-by attraction. The pinks are blushing on streets from Kaimuki to Kapahulu. You can see the original rainbow shower tree in the Daibutsu Terrace area of the Foster garden.
You have all summer to enjoy their blooms.
Monkeypods, of which we seem to have more and more of around town, are blushing with pink powderpuff blossoms. Plumerias are in full bloom, and lots of 'ohi'a lehua are in bloom in gardens and forests. Please cultivate your own for that special lei.