Amy B.H. Greenwell
Amy Beatrice Holdsworth Greenwell was one of the 23 grandchildren of Henry Nicholas Greenwell, a soldier-turned-merchant who arrived in Hawai’i in the 1850s.
Despite a series of rough starts, Henry left his family a 36,000 acre legacy when he died, a small portion of which eventually passed on to Amy.
An observant and intelligent student, Amy was a member of Gamma Phi Beta at Stanford University, class of 1942. She always had a passion for Hawaiian studies, but interrupted her education to serve as a Red Cross Nurse at Queen’s Hospital during WWII.
After the war she traveled to New York, where she worked with Otto Degener at New York Botanical Gardens on one of the authoritative volumes on Hawaiian plants, Flora Hawaiiensis.
Amy Greenwell had a great appreciation for both the natural environment and Hawaiian culture. On her return to Hawai‘i in 1947 she started working closely with Bishop Museum and its archeological projects.
On one of her expeditions in 1953 she discovered some ancient fishhooks at Ka Lae and in doing so brought the now-famous Pu‘u Ali‘i sand dune site to the attention of professional archeologists. This site led to the discovery of some 1,600 fish hooks of 65 varieties.These fish hooks were carbon-dated to 950 A.D. making them the earliest known artifacts in Hawai’i at the time. In addition, Amy did archeological and botanical surveys for such significant sites as Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau and Lapakahi.
Despite her archeological accomplishments, Amy Greenwell is best known as a botanist. Over her lifetime she wrote many articles on both native and other tropical plants. These include Taro – With Special Reference to its Culture and Uses in Hawaii, Rose Growing in Hawai’i, and Hawaiian Violets.
In her later life she lived at her 15-acre Kealakekua property, which she slowly transformed into a “pre-Cookian” garden, planting scores of native and Polynesian-introduced plants among intact remnants of Hawaiian agricultural formations.In her free time Amy dabbled in other sciences such as meteorology and speleology. On these subjects she wrote various articles and even gave regular radio broadcasts. She reported surface weather and UAP, or unusual aerial phenomena, to the National Weather Service for over twenty years. In addition to all that, she bred pure breed pug dogs.
When she died in 1974 at the age of 53, Amy Greenwell left her Kealakekua property to Bishop Museum as an educational and cultural resource. The goal was to create an experience in which visitors and locals alike could revisit the Hawaiian past and explore the environmental splendors of ancient Hawai‘i.
Bishop Museum has expanded on Amy’s initial efforts to encompass over 200 native plant species. Many of these are on the endangered species list, and several are virtually extinct in the wild.