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Hilton Waikoloa Village Focuses on Native Hawaiian Horticulture

August 1, 2019, 12:33 PM HST (Updated August 1, 2019, 12:33 PM)
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[Nahelehele-Symposium-Aalii.jpg]
A‘ali‘i is an indigenous Hawaiian shrub that occurs naturally throughout the main Hawaiian Islands, and in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. This shrub is found in many different habitats including coastal dunes, lava fields, dry and wet forests, and from low elevations to subalpine shrubland. Courtesy photo.

Hilton Waikoloa Village’s newly appointed Director of Landscaping Raymond Keenan is bringing a Native Hawaiian feel to the resort through horticulture.

According to a resort press release, Keenan has a passion for cultivating Native Hawaiian plants and uses them to educate guests through landscape design. Since his appointment, Keenan and his team have been working to replace imported plants across the property with those native to Hawai‘i, the release continued.

Keenan’s vision is for guests to come to know Hawaii from a “plantscape” perspective, while demonstrating the beauty, practicality, and viability of native plants in a unique resort setting.

Across Hilton Waikoloa Village’s 62 acres, Keenan has embarked on multiple projects using horticultural techniques that allow native plants to thrive in a way that is both functional and aesthetic. For example, the oceanfront hillside near the resort’s Kamuela Provision Company is now home to rarely-seen native species like ‘a‘ali‘i, ma‘o, pauoihiiaka, kauna‘oa and more, the release read.

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A major focus is growing multiple native species in island-like groupings called kīpuka, rather than in monoculture beds where a single kind of plant is grown in a specific area. Planting in kīpuka creates mutually beneficial growing environments for native plants because many of them grow together in nature.

In addition, the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a traditional and historic 175-mile corridor and trail network created by Native Hawaiians, traverses the shoreline of the resort via an oceanfront path, enabling views of culturally significant sites along its route. Keenan and his team have been cooperating with trail managers in restoring trail portions damaged by erosion, while incorporating native plants along the traditional pathway fronting Hilton Waikoloa Village.

A unique and lesser-known feature of the resort are its anchialine pools. These small, enclosed bodies of brackish water are found in small areas amidst the rocky fields of the island coastline and have underground connections to the ocean. The pools are unique habitats and are home to various kinds of opae, a tiny native species of shrimp, and other native organisms. Keenan’s creative efforts to remove invasive species in and around the pools, while keeping fertilization in the area to a minimum, has allowed these ecosystems to thrive.

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“The success we are having planting Native Hawaiian plants throughout the property gives me hope that we can become a model for the rest of the hotel industry,” Keenan said. “When we choose to use native plants, we encourage local nurseries to propagate these sometimes rare treasures. In turn, we play a part in revitalizing native ecosystems by showcasing them for the benefit of all in Hawai‘i.”

Prior to his new post at Hilton Waikoloa Village, Keenan most recently served as director of horticulture at the Gasparilla Inn and Club in Boca Grande, Florida. He is originally from Maui.

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