The tropical islands of Hawaii are known for playing host to some of the world’s most beautiful flowers. From the official state flower of the bright yellow Hibiscus to the fragrant pink Plumeria trees, there are a wide variety of exotic flowers to touch, see and smell while visiting our beautiful island. Below are a list of the most popular flowers, usually seen in beautiful leis and celebratory arrangements.
Orchid – Hawaiian Orchids are available in a dazzling spectrum of colors but can mostly be found in the popular purple and white leis. These royal flowers are sturdy enough to withstand being strung together all while maintaining their stunning composure. The best-known species of orchid in Hawaii are the Dendrobium and the Epidendrum.
Plumeria – One of the most delightfully scented flowers on Kauai, Plumeria can be found in white, pink, red and yellow. Commercially grown in Hawaii for lei production, these flowers are the perfect accessories for a decorative welcome home lei or simply worn behind your ear.
Hibiscus – The official state flower of Hawaii, Hibiscus can be seen growing just about everywhere— from on the side of the road to tucked away in most backyards. At one point they were considered endangered, however today there are over thirty new species that have been introduced into the island’s fertile environment.
Ginger – Hawaii’s ginger can be found in red, pink, blue, white or yellow. Native to Malaysia, this plant is not only beautiful but also functional. Many people consume ginger root to soothe upset stomachs or even squeeze Awapuhi— the “shampoo ginger” into their hair. Contrary to belief, the actual “flower” part of the ginger is the small white buds that sprout up from the colorful hive shaped stems.
Pikake – The Hawaiian name for Jasmine, Pikake translates to “peacock”, one of Princess Kaiulani’s favorite types of bird. The light and bight scent of Pikake is considered one of Hawaii’s signature scents.
Heliconia – A close relative to the banana, Heliconia can grow up to 20 feet tall and are known for resembling the shape of vibrant red lobster claws. A great place to check out these tropical plants is in one of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai such as Allerton and McBryde Gardens in Poipu.
Bird of Paradise – A close relative of the banana and the Heliconia, the Bird of Paradise is native to South Africa. A featherlike splay of gorgeous colors, this flower is one of the most appropriately named plants on Hawaii.
Anthurium – Nicknamed the “Flamingo Lily”, this brightly colored flower features an almost wax-like petal. Growing best in humid conditions, Anthurium was originally brought to Hawaii in 1889 from England.
Tuberose – Known for its lovely scent, Tuberose’s signature long stalks and cream-colored blossoms are found in many Hawaiian leis or sold simply as fresh cut flowers.
Blue Jade Vine – This otherworldly vine looks like something straight out of a fairytale. The Blue Jade Vine seems to almost glow with its surreal beauty, showcasing several different shades of electric blue. A beautiful and unique addition to any lei or decoration!
Mokihana – Kauai’s official designated “flower” and “official lei material” is that of the Mokihana, a green berry grown only on the second wettest place on earth, Mount Waialeale. Traditionally woven into Maile leaf, these berries are strung like beads and smell similar to fennel.
Ways to Wear Them
Haku lei – This type of lei is a flower crown or headdress. Having become increasingly popular in the last few years (outside of the historical Hawaiian culture), Haku lei are the perfect way to tie in the Aloha Spirit into weddings, birthdays, graduation ceremonies, May Day and much more. Some individuals even go as far to wear traditional neck leis, flower bracelets and Haku leis! There’s no better way to feel a sense of Hawaii’s timeless spirit than when showing off its beautiful bounty.
Lei – A collection of blossoms tied and hung around your neck, traditional Hawaiian leis are a fun way to showcase Mother Nature’s beauty while celebrating loved ones. Not only do visitors and locals partake in this custom, there are several ways to go about it. From the Hili lei (braided Ti leaf) to the flattened Christina Lei, there are many different styles to choose from. Leis aren’t always made out of flowers; in fact a large majority include Ti leaves, Kukui nuts and shells in addition to paper money, bones and feathers.
Flower bracelet – A colorful wrist lei is a fun and youthful alternative to the neck lei. Be sure to measure accordingly and tie off the string at an appropriate length.
Flower behind your ear – It’s a well-known fact that wearing a flower behind your ear is much more than just a fashion statement. In the Hawaiian culture, if you are to wear a flower behind your left ear, you are married and/or unavailable. Wearing a flower on the right side signifies the opposite, that the person in question is single and possibly looking for love. Be sure to wear accordingly!
Flowers Native to Hawaii
If you’re interested in learning about flowers native to the Hawaiian Islands, we recommend checking out the Alan Akana Gallery in Koloa. The gallery features vibrant floral watercolors that elegantly line the walls of the historic Smith Memorial Parsonage, a fully-restored plantation home built in 1928. https://www.alanakanagallery.com/