Photo Information

The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum features seven miles of trails and the 60-foot Aihualama Falls. The arboretum is conservation land, used for research to find methods to restore native habitat and plants throughout Hawaii. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Suzanna Knotts)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Suzanna Knotts

Lyon Arboretum: Staying lean by being green

24 Jan 2014 | Lance Cpl. Suzanna Knotts Marine Corps Base Hawaii

The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, located at the upper end of Manoa Valley in Honolulu, offers a way for people to work out and give back at the same time, all while being surrounded by a lush rain forest here on the island of Oahu.

The 200-acre arboretum is a botanical garden in a tropical rain forest, featuring seven miles of trails and the 60-foot Aihualama Falls. It is managed by the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Their mission is to increase understanding for the distinctive vegetation of Hawaii by conserving, curating and studying plants and their habitats.

The arboretum is conservation land, used for research to find methods to restore native habitat and plants throughout Hawaii. They are open Monday through Saturday, and visitors don’t have to pay to get in. Parking is free as well.

Jill Laughlin, the education and volunteer programs coordinator for the arboretum, said the land is a wonderful resource for the community, and they couldn’t continue their mission without the help of volunteers.

“We couldn’t have a tenth of what this garden is if we didn’t have volunteer help,” Laughlin said. “We are the full- time caretakers of this place, but we totally rely on the help and goodwill of the community.”

Volunteer opportunities include: tour guide, arborist’s assistant, garden assistant, children’s school tour guides, class monitor, ethnobotany garden and Hawaiian section gardener, greenhouse assistant, groundskeeper’s crew, edible resources gatherer, herb and spice gardeners, hospitality, lei making, jams and jellies making, lab assistant, photographic archives assistant, plant collection labeling, plant production assistant, plant sales, publicity assistant, Saturday working party, seed conservation project, sign language interpreters, trail sweepers, visitor’s center receptionist and website maintenance.

The Saturday working party is the first Saturday of every month from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Laughlin explained that people come to help with the project of the day, which may include trail building.

“Our volunteer commitment is flexible,” Laughlin said. “We always need the help, so we can afford to be flexible.”

Laughlin said there are currently approximately 1,000 volunteers a year and about 150 of those return regularly to help out.

“With less than 20 people on staff, a lot of projects and day-to-day tasks couldn’t be done without help,” Laughlin said. “This land gets over 40,000 visitors a year. It’s not just a garden, it’s a living museum.”

Laughlin explained that 80 to 90 percent of the volunteering is maintaining the grounds, due to unwanted plants thriving and destruction in the rainy climate.

Liloa Dunn, an ethnobotanical gardener with the Lyon Arboretum, said he frequently works with service members who volunteer at the arboretum, and enjoys it when he has the opportunity.

“The service members are awesome,” Dunn said. “They stay on task, listen well and are always very respectful. We like to call what we do combat gardening. We have enemy plants in here we need to take out.”

One of Dunn’s projects includes building a rock wall for people to enjoy.

“Someone who helps build something like that will become a part of our history because it will be here forever,” Laughlin said.

Potential volunteers can visit the arboretum’s website to learn how they can help out.

“The arboretum is an amazing, beautiful place,” Laughlin said. “I pinch myself every day being able to work here. You can hike here and not see anybody, which isn’t typical for Oahu. It’s a therapeutic, quiet place to find solace and or work hard (through volunteering).”

For more information or to ask questions about volunteering, call 988-0456 or visit their website at

Marine Corps Base Hawaii