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A Hawaiian garden paradise

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Courtesy of Craig Summers Black

(Read caption) Hanging lobster claw (Heliconia rostrata) descends in long strands. The garden's different heliconias grow from two to 20 feet high.

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Finally, a garden that vacationers – antsy kids, hijacked golfers, and waylaid shopaholics – can all enjoy. Really.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden – despite its underwhelming name – is the garden that we all dream up inside our heads when we think of a tropical garden. Huge exotic flowers in eye-popping colors that dazzle, shock and intrigue. And lots of them.

Yes, this is a garden that even non-gardeners will enjoy.

In a quiet section of the Onomea Valley near Hilo on the Big Isle, the garden is compact at only 40 acres, but fairly littered with more than 750 genera and 2,000 species.

You will be amused to know that of all these tropical treats – one of them actually looks like a luminous bat – nearly none of them are native. Yes, the tropics import tropicals, too.

A trail – steep at times – leads you through almost an amusement park landscape with scandalicious blossoms always almost inches from your eyes. There are flowers that look like rainbow crabs, like fiery torches, like exploding fireworks, like sucking chest wounds.

Which is to say: gingers, orchids, heliconias, bromeliads – all under a filtered canopy of palms, tree ferns and travelers’ trees. (See the three photos at left,)

You don’t have to know that the white-flowering cat’s whiskers is formally known as Orthosiphon stamineus to realize that you’ll never see one of these back home.

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