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HFI and Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association’s (HFIA) are working with community partners to create the Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest.  The Discovery Forest is a representation of natural systems, creating a scene of Hawai‘i before the arrival of humans.

The project is demonstrating culturally significant plant and tree species that once grew near traditional shoreline villages of O‘ahu. This replication of coastal ecosystems is helping to provide habitat for Hawaiian plants, birds, and invertebrates. The exhibit is designed to demonstrate culturally significant Hawaiian plant species, the significance of place, and the kuleana of mālama ‘āina by integrating traditional Hawaiian forest ecosystems, forest stewardship opportunities, and innovative land-based education for residents and visitors.

Jason Umemoto, Leland Miyano, and Leonard Bisel created the Schematic Concept Plan (See below). If you have a group of volunteers, school group, or boy/girl scout troop that would like to volunteer to help create and maintain the Discovery Forest, contact Linda at or call 760-695-7460.

Adopt a Native Hawaiian Plant

Online Interactive Identification Guides

Plant Identification Upland Native Forest Birds Other Forest Fauna

Project Update

In 2019, HFI received grants from the City & County of Honolulu Department of Community Services and Friends of Hawaii Charities for continued site maintenance and to produce a docent workbook, a coloring book, and signage and to install paving stepping stones.

Forest Friends Coloring Book

Forest Friends is a coloring book that is beautifully illustrated by local artist and illustrator Diana Tusher. The coloring book is suitable for all ages – both children and adults. It depicts a wide variety of native birds and other wildlife in their favorite habitat. In addition to gorgeous line drawings for coloring, Forest Friends includes little known “fun facts” about each animal so that readers can learn as they color.

You can get a copy of the coloring book for non-commercial use here: Forest Friends Coloring Book

Creative Commons License
Forest Friends was created by HFI and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Interpretive Guide

The Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Interpretive Guide is a 28-page resource for docents, teachers and anyone interested in native Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants as well as many of the native animals that use them for food or shelter. Using simple, layperson’s language, illustrations, and pictures, the guide helps explain the difference between scientific concepts such as endemic vs. indigenous. It also describes traditional Hawaiian land use and gives examples of traditional uses of plants for hale building, making kapa, and making poi. The Interpretive Guide explores plants as habitat and threats to native habitat, as well as outlining actions we can take to protect native habitat. Chapters on upland native forest birds and other fauna present Hawaii’s rich biodiversity, including lesser known creatures such as the Pulelehua (Kamehameha Butterfly), Kāhuli (Hawaiian Tree Snail), ‘Ōpe‘ape‘a (Hawaiian Hoary Bat), Nananana Makakiʻi  (Hawaiian Happy Face Spider), and the Nalo Meli Maoli (Hawaiian Yellow-faced Bee).

While the Interpretive Guide was designed for use at the Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest, it can easily be used as a teaching reference for classes about native Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants, native fauna, conservation, and Hawaiian culture.

The Interpretive Guide was designed by local artist and illustrator Diana Tusher.

Creative Commons License
The Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Interpretive Guide was created by HFI and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

You can get a copy of the Interpretive Guide for non-commercial use here: Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Interpretive Guide

HFI is partnering with faculty and students at the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa and the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife to improve the native plant collection and educational signs and other materials in the adjacent Kipuka Nene Exhibit to better highlight native forest bird habitat and conservation efforts.

Upland Hawaiian Forest and Birds of the Montane Native Forest interpretive sign were created and installed at the Discovery Forest.  The sign illustrations were created by Gerald Mayfield and the layout and design were created by Diana Tusher.  The sign was funded by Hawai’i Tourism Authority and Hawai’i Community Foundation

The infrastructure of the Upland Hawaiian Forest Zone has been completed and volunteers continue to enhance and maintain this Zone. Project Coordinator Linda Duling has coordinated efforts to engage over 1,700 volunteers of all ages in maintaining the Discovery Forest and outplanting 1,100 seedlings. An additional 3,224 trees, shrubs, and ground cover were planted in the Upland Hawaiian Forest by the contractor.  We have had individual volunteers; community groups such as JEO Navy, Air Force, Lions Club, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and students from McKinley High School, Kaimuki Middle School, Jefferson Elementary, Waikiki Elementary, Washington Elementary, Lunailio Elementary, Ala Wai Elementary, Punahou High School, UH Mānoa, and pre-kindergarten children.

Volunteer Workday Photos

Volunteers weed and plant sweet potato.  8/21/2021

New plant ID signs in the Discovery Forest.  8/21/2021

January 2020
February 2020
July 2020
November 2020

January 2019
February 2019
March 2019

January 2018
February 2018
March 2018
April 2018
May 2018
June 2018
July 2018
August 2018
September 2018
October 2018
November 2018
December 2018

February 18, 2017
March 2017
April 2017
May 2017
June 2017
July 2017
August 2017
September 2017
October 2017
November 2017

October 2015 Volunteer Events Photos
November 21, 2015 Volunteer Event Photos
December 2015 Event Photos
March 19, 2016
December 10, 2016

HFIA E-news Summer 2018
HFIA Summer 2017 E-news HZCDF Receives Continued Support
HFIA Association News-Winter 2015 HZCDF article
Honolulu Zoo CDF Ribbon Cutting and Work Day media release 4-11-17

KITV article

Plants at the Honolulu Zoo

Current Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest activities funded by:

Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Aloha ‘Āina Program
Friends of Hawaii Charities


About the Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest

The Discovery Forest  is reconnecting urban visitors with the Hawaiian forest through three demonstration zones: Polynesian-introduced species and cultivars; Dryland Mesic forest species; and Strand vegetation.  The project is integrating the interest of the community by engaging partners and volunteers in creating the project, which will benefit an estimated 750,000 visitors per year to the zoo. Community involvement is a key component in this project and aesthetic appeal will be valuable for zoo visitors. Wilderness is rarely so organized, and a demonstration garden is an effective way for urban visitors to reconnect with the Hawaiian forest and nature in general. Schematic Concept Plan created by Leland Miyano, Jason Umemoto, and Leonard Bisel.

The project started with the construction of the Polynesian-introduced Zone and will proceed to the dryland and mesic forest and then strand vegetation of the coast; using examples of indigenous and endemic flora. Educational programs are being developed related to topics such as evolution, ecological lessons, endangered species, watershed protection, ahupua‘a resource management, and invasive species. Plants that are associated with educational stories will be prominently displayed. For example, a depiction of a lowland loulu (Pritchardia palm) forest will be a unique feature.

Hawaii’s native forests are our nation’s most endangered, and the lowland ecosystems have been the most severely impacted. By reintroducing elements of the forest, this project will return community rewards in the form of environment and cultural educational benefits, forest stewardship volunteer opportunities, and private and public partnerships.  This special place is serving as an outdoor educational setting where visitors learn about the importance of the sustainability of native and Polynesian plantings within a framework of Hawaiian cultural values. The vast cultural, natural, and historical attributes of Hawaii’s coastal flora and geology is being shared, demonstrating the bond that must be formed between people and ‘āina if both are to thrive.  Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Topographical Survey Honolulu Zoo Landscape Plan


We appreciate your donation to the Children’s Discovery Forest. Donations are secure when using our Pay Pal account. You determine the amount. Payments can be made by credit card.

Linda and HFI President Dr. Travis Idol host field trips for students incorporating natural resource lessons including: Native Hawaiian Birds, Energy & Nutrient Cycling, Kalo cultural stories and replanting guidelines, El Nino & Global Climate Change, Polynesian vs. Native Hawaiian plants identification and uses, and Island Chance paper airplane activities.

Upland Hawaiian Forest Interpretive Sign. Illustration by Gerald Mayfield, layout and design by Diana Tusher. Funded by Hawai’i Tourism Authority, Hawai’i Community Foundation, and Friends of Hawaii Charities.

Birds of the Montane Native Forest Interpretive Sign. Illustration by Gerald Mayfield and layout and design by Diana Tusher.

Funded by Hawai’i Tourism Authority and Friends of Hawaii Charities.

Phase I Dedication

Council Member Ernie Martin presents HFI with a Certificate from the County Council.

A Phase I Dedication was held on February 7th, 2015.  The Dedication featured presentations by Acting Zoo Director Baird Fleming, Landscape Designer Leland Miyano, HFI President Travis Idol, and HFI Treasurer William Yuen. Council Member Ernie Martin presented HFI with a certificate of appreciation and an Hawaiian blessing was performed by Kahu Kalama Cabigon. This was followed by a tour of the site and refreshments. Dignitaries planted Ti plants during the Dedication Ceremony and volunteers planted seedlings in Phase I, the Polynesian-introduced Zone.  Plants were donated by Waimea Valley, Board of Water Supply Halawa Xeriscape Garden, and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.

Forest aims to cultivate kids’ interest in nature-Star Advertiser-2-2015

Hawaii Forest Institute – Sat 2-7-15 KITV 10pm

Groundbreaking Celebration

The April 20, 2013 Groundbreaking Celebration was attended by about 75 student volunteers, parents, and invited guests.  Council members Ernie Martin and Stanley Chang participated in the groundbreaking ceremony with Landscape Designer Leland Miyano, PBR HAWAII President Thomas Witten, Department of Enterprise Services Director Gerald Saito,  Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Grant Administer Kehau Meyer, HFI Treasurer William Yuen, and  HFI President Travis Idol.  Each of the dignitaries planted a native tree and watched as 30 student volunteers planted some native seedlings.  HFI Director William Yuen welcome the attendees, President Travis Idol talked about HFI and the Discovery Forest project, and Landscape Designer Leland Miyano talked about the landscape design he created.  Leland also talked about the native plants and gave a planting demonstration for  the volunteers. Student volunteers were from McKinley High School, Kaimuki Middle School, Jefferson Elementary, Waikiki Elementary, Washington Elementary, Lunailio Elementary, Ala Wai Elementary, as well as pre-k children. UH Manoa graduate students volunteered to help the children plant their seedlings. Mahalo to Waiahole Botanicals for donating 50 ‘Ohi‘a seedlings for the children volunteers to take home.  And mahalo to Side Street Inn and Halli’s Hawaiian Foods for donating food for the event.

Early Childhood Advisory Committee

A Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest (HZCDF) Early Childhood Advisory Committee has been formed.  The mission of the Committee is to provide guidance to HFI toward the creation of educational resources and developmentally appropriate activities at the Discovery Forest that will benefit students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, as well as early childhood educators.  Early Childhood Advisory Committee members are Travis Idol, Sherry Robinson, Leland Miyano, Nicole Evans, and Heather Simmons. The Committee developed potential topics for Hawai‘i Early Learning and Development Standards for four year-old children and Hawai‘i Content and Performance Standard Benchmarks for students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. The committee has also initiated the development of activities and lesson plans.

Early Childhood Advisory Committee Mission and Goals
EarlyChildhood Resources Standards and Benchmarks
Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Draft Lesson Plans

Project Funders
DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife and USDA Forest Service through Kaulunani Urban Forestry Program
Friends of Hawaii Charities
Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Aloha ‘Āina Program
Hawai‘i Community Foundation
Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation
Cooke Foundation
Atherton Family Foundation
Pettus Foundation
Department of Community Services, City & County of Honolulu, Hawai‘i

In-kind Donors
Halli’s Hawaiian Food
Leland Miyano
Side Street Inn
PBR Hawaii
Waiahole Botanicals
Waiahole Nursery & Garden Center
Green Field Nursery
Native Plant Source
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
Waimea Valley Board of Water Supply
Halawa Xeriscape Garden
Sharon’s Nursery
Hui Ku Maoli Nursery
Gerald Mayfield
Diana Tusher
University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa

Others committed to assisting with the project include:

City and County of Honolulu Department of Enterprise Services Honolulu Zoo, Conservation Council of Hawai‘i, Kualoa-Heeia Ecumenical Youth Project, Mānoa Heritage Center, O‘ahu Resource Conservation & Development Council, Paepae o He‘eia Polynesian Voyaging Society Scenic Hawaii, Inc. The Outdoor Circle University of Hawai‘i (UH) Dept. of Agronomy & Soil Science UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

Public Relations

Stories of endemic land snails by Leland Miyano

Hawai‘i had one of the greatest land snail biodiversities in the world.  One estimate states that there may have been over 800 species in the past.  Today, only a handful are living and those are under constant threat of extinction.  The majority of people in Hawai‘i have never heard of our endemic land snails, and very few have actually seen them.

The Discovery Forest will have examples of plants that were important habitat and food plants for endemic land snails. Surprisingly, the coastal zones used to be the home of countless millions of snails now completely extinct.  Kawelu grass was the preferred plant for Endononta snails at one time.  Higher up in the forest will be Lonomea trees, which formed a habitat for an extremely rare ground dwelling snail that disguised its shell with soil and slime and resembled a clump of dirt.  Under Mamaki bushes many types of snails thrived on half-dried fallen leaves.  Many snails in Hawai‘i often cleaned the forest and did not eat living leaves.  The most famous, Achatinella snails on O‘ahu, are tree snails that eat sooty mold, algae, and fungi off of various tree species.  While there will be no living Hawaiian endemic snails in the Discovery Forest, their stories will live on with the plant species selected and planted.

If you have questions or would like additional information, contact Project Coordinator Linda Duling at

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We appreciate your donation to the Children’s Discovery Forest.

Donate by Mail

Please make your check payable to the “Hawai`i Forest Institute”. Your donations by mail can be mailed to:
Hawai`i Forest Institute
P.O. Box 66
O`okala HI, 96774


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