If the Big Island is the orchid isle then Hilo is the capital of the everything orchid. Just outside Hilo is the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, a great place to view an amazing variety of spectacular orchids. Whether you’re an orchid aficionado, a part-time gardener, or just curious about what makes these flowers such a special part of the Big Island – be sure to make this a stop on your road trip.
Where is it?
The Akatsuka Orchid Gardens are located between mile markers’ 22 and 23 on Highway 11 near Volcano National Park on the Big Island. It’s about a 25 minute drive from Hilo and a 10 minute drive from Volcano.
When can I visit?
The Akatsuka Orchid Gardens are open limited hours in 2020 due to the pandemic. Currently they’re open Tuesday and Thursday between 10am – 3pm (closed between 12pm-1pm for cleaning). Access is easy and is wheelchair accessible (check their website for the latest opening hours).
A popular stop for tour buses, the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens features a large showroom – an open warehouse-like space displaying an amazing variety of colorful orchids. There are over 500 blooming orchids on display! These include dendrobiums, oncidiums, phalaenopsis, miltonia and odontoglossums. There are also anthuriums, bromeliads and tillandsia plants.
The Akatsuka Orchid Gardens have been specializing in the cultivation of orchids on the Big Island of Hawaii for over 30 years. The founder, Moriyasu Akatsuka, moved to Hawaii from Japan and started the gardens as a family business in 1974. It began life as a cymbidium orchid farm before Moriyasu changed direction, growing the more vibrant Cattleya orchid.
The first garden showroom opened to the public in the 1980s. It was at this time that Moriyasu began creating his own original Cattleya orchids.
By the 1990s the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens had grown in popularity, attracting many visitors from around the country and around the world. The gardens expanded, adding a gift shop and gaining the required certification to ship orchids to customers.
In 2000 the gardens renovated the showroom and a modern greenhouse was also added.
In 2016 the gardens created the world’s first orchid maze! You can experience the maze on a self-guided tour of the gardens (all 8,000 square feet!). There is also a 45 minute tour through the maze and the greenhouse growing facility (COVID-19 may have postponed this tour, please check their website for the latest details).
The tillandsia (above and right) are air plants, native to northern Mexico, the US southeast, and Mesoamerica. They have the ability to cling to precarious locations on trees and rocky outcrops. A minimal root system means they can survive easily on even a small piece of bark! They do not require soil in order to survive, are easy-care and low maintenance. Tillandsia typically produce a brightly colored flower.
The Volcano Queen orchid
If you’re on the Big Island during the months of April and May make sure you check out the Volcano Queen orchid. This orchid only blooms once a year and is the gardens’ most famous resident, worth approximately $20,000! The orchid is originally from Thailand and is not a hybrid. It can’t be cloned, so propagation can only occur through division.