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Flowers and Plants of Hawaii
Flowers and Plants of Hawaii
The beauty of the Hawaiian Islands is not only due to the abundance of flowers and plants but also to the vast varieties of species that the Hawaiian Islands have evolved to.
Some species are indigenous to the islands while the majority have been imported, but they all flourish in harmony in the near perfect weather conditions with the nearly perfect nutrient-rich volcanic soil.
Welcome to a minuscule example of the floral beauty of Hawaii.
Every Hawaiian Island is Represented by Its Own Flower
Hawaii State Flower - Yellow Hibiscus
The Yellow Hibiscus - Pua Maò-hau-hele
The yellow hibiscus is now the state flower of Hawai'i, but it wasn't always so.
Many people are confused over this fact as the native white hibiscus was adopted as the territorial flower 2 May 1923, by the Legislature of the Territory of Hawaii, and approved by W. R. Farrington, the Governor of the Territory of Hawaii.
The indigenous white hibiscus mutabilis, known as pua aloalo (hibiscus flower) changed from white to pink to red during the day, so many thought that the red hibiscus was the official territory flower.
In 1959, when Hawai'i became a state, the red hibiscus became the official state flower and it was not until 1988 when the yellow hibiscus flower was then chosen as the official state flower.
It was 6 June 1988, that the Hawaii Legislature adopted the native yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei), also known as the maò-hau-hele, as the "official flower of the State."
Every island is represented by a different flower.
Hibiscus Can Be Seen Every Where in Vibrant Colors - Some species of hibiscus were imported from Asia and have cross pollinated with the native indigenous hibisClick thumbnail to view full-size
Island of Hawaii
Island of Hawaii - Ohi`a Lehua
The Island of Hawaii is represented by the Ohi`a lehua, also known as the pua lehua, and is the blossom of the Ohia tree and is usually red, but sometimes yellow.
The Ohi'a tree is the first tree to rebirth itself from the lava and is known as Pele's unrequited love. There is a legend of the handsome Ohi'a and the beautiful Lehua that I will tell you later.
Yellow Lehua Blossom - Pua Mele Kapa
Usually, the lehua blossoms of the Ohi'a are a bright scarlet red, but they are known to also bloom a pale shade of yellow (shown), white and occasionally an orange blossom.
The Ohi'a Tree
The Ohi'a tree usually has a gnarled, twisted grey trunk with thick peeling bark like the one in the photo above. They start out looking like little desolate, windswept bushes growing in the lava fields.
The very old trees will reach heights of over 80 feet with very, very thick twisted trunks like the one pictured below. These tree trunks, when cut down and cured make the most beautiful, decorative and fascinating log poles for homes with their lovely twisted trunks.
Ancient Twisted Ohia Tree
Island of Maui
Island of Maui - Lokelani
The lokelani or rose is the flower that represents the island of Maui. To be more specific, it is the damask rose (rosa damascena).
The damask rose is very popular on the island of Maui, in fact, it is so popular for a long time it was called the "Maui Rose".
For centuries, it grew wild along the roadsides of Ulupalakua and was the very first rose grown on McKee's Ulupalakua Rose Ranch. It became the official island flower in 1923.
This photo of the damask rose and tuberose lei is courtesy of The Hawaiian Lei Company who make the most gorgeous leis and will ship to the mainland.
Lokelani Haku Lei
Island of Oahu
Island of O'ahu - Pua `ilima
The 'ilima flower represents the island of Oahu and is from the indigenous dodder shrub (sida fallax)which is a close cousin to the hibiscus family.
The 'ilima flowers are very small in comparison to a hibiscus as they are only about an inch in width and they are paper thin. The flowers are so delicate that it takes around 500 blossoms to make one lei. When strung, they make beautiful yellow-orange leis that are stunning when worn against a black background.
The blossoms are also used for medicine. The juice squeezed from the blossoms are used as a mild laxative for babies to relieve gas and is called kanaka-maika'i. We also use it as a pregnancy tonic that promotes a strong immune system and eases the pain of childbirth.
Island of Kaua'i
Island of Kaua`i - Mokihana
The mokihana that represents the Island of Kaua'i comes from the native endemic bush (pelea anisata).
The only place in the world that this plant is found is on the slopes of Mount Waialelae on the island of Kaua'i and in the rainforest of the Big Island of Hawaii.
It is from the Rutaceae (citrus) family.
Mokihana and Maile Lei
The mokihana really isn't a flower, but a small leathery, cubed shaped fruit with an anise scent.
The fruit berries change colors from green to brown. It grows on a shrub with thin, leather-like, elliptic, opposite leaves that are strongly pungent with anise scent. The scent is sometimes retained for years, in the dry wood as well as in the berries.
It was once one of the ancient Hawaiians favorite perfumes. The twigs and berries were dried and placed between the folds of their kapa (tapa) cloth.
Island of Moloka'i
Island of Moloka'i - Pua Kukui
The pua kukui represents the island of Moloka'i and is also known as the candlenut tree (aleurites moluccana).
The silvery, light green leaves and the small white flowers are either woven or strung into leis and represent the island of Moloka'i, but the nut of the kukui tree are what is really valuable in Hawaiian culture.
Hawaiian Pua Kukui Lei
Hawaiian Kukui Nut Lei
The highly polished nuts of the kukui nut tree are now valued allover the world as exotic jewelry. The nuts are available in black, brown and cream colors.
The Kukui Nut Tree Had Many Uses
The creamy white kernel of the kukui nut is very oily and in the days of old, the oil was used not only for polishing but also for lighting the torches and later for the lamps and kukui hele po (lanterns).
The soft wood was carved out for canoes, the gum from the bark of the tree was used as dye to paint the kapa cloth and for tattooing; the shells of nut and the roots of the tree were used to make black dye.
To this day, we still use the roasted nut as a very tasty seasoning called inamona and every part of the tree is still used effectively for medicinal purposes. The kukui nuts are also polished, strung into leis and used for jewelry.
Island of Lana'i
Island of Lana'i - Kauna`oa
The kauna`oa, that represents the island of Lana'i, is also known as the native dodder (cuscuta sandwichiana). It is a rare species that can be very difficult to find.
The kauna`oa really isn't a flower at all.
It is actually an air plant that is a parasitic twining vine. The yellow and orange strands that grow from the vine are used in lei making.
The yellowish flowers of the plant grow in tiny clusters along the stems and are only 1/16 of an inch.
As you can see from Ron Gingerich's photo on the right, the flowers are like little nubs on the orange colored strands.
It grows in coastal areas with sandy soils at elevations ranging from sea level to 975 feet. It parasitizes a variety of other indigenous and endemic plants on all of the main Hawaiian islands except Kaua'i and Kaho'olawe.
Kauna`oa Lei Making
On the left, you can see the kauna`oa being cleaned to get it ready to make a lei. In the parades, the pa`u riders look so beautiful wearing these leis with their bright orange pa`u
Island of Ni'ihau
Island of Ni'ihau - Kahelelani
The island of Ni'ihau is represented by not a flower lei, but a lei made from tiny white shells found only on the island of Ni'ihau called Kahelelani. They are also referred to as Ni'ihau shells, pupu (small bit), or incorrectly as laiki (rice) and momi (pearl) shells.
The island of Ni'ihau is very arid and doesn't get enough rainwater to support the growth of the beautiful flowers that are abundant on the other islands. Because of this the highly valued Ni'ihau shell was chosen to represent the island instead.
The laiki and momi, although still very small, are actually larger shells and can also be found on the island of Kaua'i. In comparison, a double strand choker of kahelelani will require 600-700 shells as opposed to about 250 for a double strand of momi shells.
Niihau Shell Leis
The complete social and cultural history of the making of shell leis in Hawaii written in a comparative narrative by Linda Paik Moriarty
Ni'ihau Shell Leis Are Very Rare
Most kahelelani shells used today are from Kaua'i and are called Kaua'i kahelelani because the true Ni'ihau kahelelani are so tiny and so rare they are very costly with prices that compete with very high-quality gems.
They range in color from a very light brown, almost white, to reddish-tan and very rarely a tannish pink.
The making of Ni'ihau shell leis is a very tedious process indeed. On a good day of shell picking, a skilled picker might harvest a film canister of prime quality kahelelani shells in about four hours.
All this time is spent on hands and knees or lying in the sand. People are always shocked when they discover that these shells are all hand picked one at a time.
The true Ni'hau shells are not only rare because they only grow around the one island, but also because Ni'ihau is a privately owned island that no one is allowed to visit.
It is home to a mere 226 of mostly pure Hawaiian residents. The people that live there may leave if they want to, but if they do leave, they are not allowed to return.
The people of Ni'ihau still live in the traditional Hawaiian way and are are not governed by any country, only by the owners of the island, the Robinson family. The shells are occasionally brought from the island when supply boats visit the other islands for supplies.
Once the Robinsons purchased the island in 1864, they made a commitment to the maintenance of the Hawaiian culture.
In ancient Hawaiian history, only the highest members of Hawaiian society such as the Ali'i and Kahuna could wear Kahelelani shells.
The shells have been written about in the journals and books of early western visitors. In 1873, Isabella Bird wrote in her book, "Six Months in the Sandwich Islands", "Niihau is famous for the necklaces of shells six yards long as well as for the extreme beauty and variety of the shells which are found there." These lengths are now a very rare sight indeed.
Island of Kaho'olawe
Island of Kaho'olawe - Hinahina
The island of Kaho'olawe is represented by the hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum var. argenteum) also called beach heliotrope.
Hinahina means gray or grayish. The Hawaiians gave this same name to other plants that were gray or grayish in appearances, such as the silver sword and the Spanish moss.
Soon after the Spanish Moss was introduced to Hawaii around 1920, the Hawaiians fashioned a lei from it.
Because the plant reminded them of kauna'oa in texture, they used the same techniques to make the lei hinahina as was used for the lei kauna'oa.
The Hawaiians named Spanish moss, 'umi'umi o Dole, meaning Dole's beard.
It was named for the famous gray beard of Sanford B. Dole, first and only president of the Hawaiian Republic. He was also the cousin of James Dole, founder of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company on Oahu in 1851.
Pele's Hair ~ Spanish Moss
Another name given to Spanish moss is Pele's Hair.
This is the common name that most people in Hawaii know it as today.
It's official Latin name is Tillandsia usneoides (growing like hair on statue head).
Regardless of the name you want to call it, Pele's Hair is not a moss at all.
It is an air plant that grow in the trees, hanging from tree branches, but it does not rely on the tree branches for its nutrients. It is an epiphytic plant from the Bromeliaceae family.
In ceremonies and parades, Pele's Hair is almost always substituted for the native hinahina to represent the island of Kaho'olawe since it is easier to get Spanish moss than it is to get the endemic hinahina.
Kaho`olawe Pa'u Rider
See the hinahina lei of the Kaho`olawe Pa'u Rider, Princess Marisa Kaleohano. She is also wearing Pele's Hair in her leipo'o (head lei) and in the horses haku lei (open braid garland).
Help the Planet
Everyone Can Kokua
The word kokua means help in Hawaiian.
Everyone can do their part to kokua in reducing landfill waste by refusing plastic bags in the grocery stores.
Buy several reusable canvas tote bags to use instead. Better yet, buy your totes with Hawaiian floral designs. Everyone will love your bags and want to know where you got them!
This is a great looking and sturdy canvas tote bag with Hawaiian hibiscus print straps. It has plenty of room to fill with groceries with a front pocket to hold your coupons. Pretty cool, huh?
Popular Flowers for Lei Making
King Kamehameha I Statue Covered in Leis
Lei Making in Hawaii
Lei making, the stringing, weaving or braiding of flowers and plants, to form a garland or wreath, has long been a cultural art of Hawaii and has as many diverse meanings as there are occasions to wear them. The history and uses of lei's in Hawaii is a book in itself and will have to be covered at another time.
Instead, we will visit a few of the thousands of varieties of flowers and plants that are used in Hawaii to create our leis, decorate our homes and adorn our bodies.
Plumeria Is Very Popular Flower for Lei Making in Hawai'i
The plumeria, or frangipani, is one of the most common flowers in Hawaii, yet come in a wide variety of colors and hues and sizes and shapes.
Even the trees that they grow on can vary with their growth patterns.
The exotic scent of the plumeria is intoxicating and the flowers will hold up very well as single, double or triple leis.
Plumerias could have arrived in the Hawaiian Islands through the Spanish vaqueros, but no one really knows for sure.
That is the best guess since the vaqueros, brought much of their culture to the Big Island of Hawaii. They also brought along their ranching skills and taught the paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) how to better manage the long-horned cattle that had been gifted to King Kamehameha I.
Plumerias Comes in a Variety of Colosr and ShapesClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Few Varieties of Hawaii's Orchids
White Hawaiian Orchid
The orchid is an elegant flower and there are thousands of varieties of orchids grown in Hawaii, some of which are cultivated and some of which grow wild.
Read this article by Jeanette Foster about the Hawaiian Orchids:
Some have soft, fragile petals that delicately curl into scalloped edges. Some have shocking colors, purples so dark they look chocolate, yellows so bright they are practically neon and pinks so vivid that the sunset pales in comparison.
Some have big fleshy petals, others pointy or spiny ones and some resemble creatures from outer space. Some have intoxicating fragrances that will linger in your dreams.
They all are classified as Orchidaceae, the orchid family, one of the biggest families in the entire plant kingdom. Found worldwide (except Antarctica and arid deserts of Eurasia), these exotic plants have fascinated man since Theophrastus, the father of botany (ca. 371 - 287 BC), who first described the flowers, which he called Orchis, in his botanical work, Enquiry into Plants.
Fresh Hawaiian Lei - Double White Orchid Lei
Thousands of Orchid Species
There are so many orchids in the world, that scientists, botanists and orchid hunters are still discovering new ones in exotic tropical regions. No one really knows how many orchids there are: some say there are 15,000 different species and others argue no, there are 25,000 different species, some claim 400 different genera, which is disputed by another faction who puts the number closer to 800.
"Lots of people think cattleyas originally came from Hawaii." said "Mr. Orchid" of the Big Island, Miroyasu Akatsuka, of Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, referring to the large petal flower, frequently used in corsages.
Although people think of orchids as being native to the Hawaii, actually only four species are endemic to the islands and all of them are so inconspicuous that they are considered uninteresting in the world of commercial ornament orchids.
Unique Varieties of Hawaiian OrchidsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Haku Lei Po'o
Colorful Mixed Double Dendrobium Orchid Lei
Dendrobium orchids are the most common variety used for lei making.
These orchids are sturdy, and a perfect shape for stringing. They can be strung both through the center of the flower or sideways for double leis.
They are also used by tying on a backing for a haku lei po'o (woven head lei) like the one pictured on the right. This is the traditional style of ancient Hawaiian lie making, passed down by our ancestors.
Many modern day brides prefer to wear haku leis for their weddings.
Dendrobium orchids will last up to four days after delivery and can be "revived", if excessive heat makes them limp, by floating them in cool water for 10 minutes. The leis can then be rolled in newspaper and kept under refrigeration until needed.
Dendrobium orchids are available in white, purple, green, and lavender blossoms.
Bride Wearing Haku Lei Po'o (Woven Head Lei)
Vanda Orchids Lei
Vanda Orchid Miss Joaquim Hawaiian Starter Plant
Deluxe Feather Vanda Orchid Lei
Not to be confused, this is a vanda orchid flower lei in a feathered style. It is NOT a feather lei.
The Vandaceous or vanda orchid is the variety that has been the most popular for orchid leis for the last 50 years. The flowers have beautiful lavender petals with a gold throat.
The Lani lei is strung sideways so the throat shows while the Maunaloa lei is made of the lips only. Unfortunately, the Lani is a little more fragile in the outer petals than the dendrobium orchid and all Vanda leis will turn white if exposed to too much heat.
The simple genus Vanda contains many species represented by large handsome plants and with a wide variety of beautiful colors in the flowers. Some of the colors of the vanda include yellow, orange, pink, gold, and white with a variety of colors in the spotted variety too.
When it comes to the vanda orchid and growing, the vanda's are considered sun-worshipers. They like humidity. They need misting and when their roots go white they need water. The roots can be submerged and soaked in a bucket of water.
They are natives of India, the Philippines, and some Pacific islands. They will not thrive without adequate sun, and they must have corresponding amounts of heat and water. Care must be exercised to keep water from remaining in the growing crown.
Caring For Your Vanda Orchid Plant
How to Re-Pot Vanda Orchids
Hawaii Awapui - Ginger Flowers
Ginger Flowers in Hawaii
Awapui (the ginger genus) is another flowering plant in Hawaii popular for lei making and beauty products.
These are a few of the thousands of ginger species that grow in Hawaii. These are some of the most common that you will find growing wild in the rain forest or along the roadways. They are picked and made into gorgeous leis.
The genus includes a wide variety of species, over 1300, none of which are indigenous to Hawaii. They were brought to Hawaii from India and the Himalayas.
The yellow, orange and white varieties are the most fragrant, that I am aware of, and the most popular for lei making.
When you are walking through one of Hawaii's tropical rainforest and come across a grove of wild white ginger the fragrance of the flowers creates a heady, intoxicating sensation that permeates one's whole being.
The juice of the ripe seed heads extracted as a shampoo and skin lotion additive.
Hawaiian floral lei makers use the wide variety of ginger species growing in Hawaii to create their gorgeous native Hawaiian haku leis.
The flowers are woven and braided along with other flower species, endemic native Hawaiian plants, berries and ferns.
White Single Ginger Lei
White Ginger Leis
This is a photo of a flat style white ginger lei. The blossoms are very delicate and do not last long, but the heady fragrance is heavenly.
I love the triple ginger leis shown in the photo below. The triple leis will last a bit longer than the single leis.
Triple White ginger Lei
A Few of the Wild Ginger Flower Varieties Growing in Hawaii's Tropical Rain Forests - Used for Leis and Flower ArrangementsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Hawaiian Pikake Flower
Pikake is the Hawaiian name for the jasmine blossom which is one of our favorite leis for a bride.
The pikake leis have an elegant look and a heavily scented blossom. The lei strands are often entwined with maile vines, strands of pakala or multiple pikake lei strands are joined together by twisting, giving the impression of multiple strings of pearls.
When a pikake lei is made, they string the closed buds. The pikake buds will open when they are not kept refrigerated, releasing their heady, addictive fragrance. The blossoms are very fragile and the flowers and leis will only last for one day.
There are about a dozen Jasminum species grown in Hawaii as ornamentals. The name is adapted from the word "peacock," because Princess Kaiulani loved both the flower and the bird.
Multi Strand Pikake Lei
True Hawaiian Gardenia - Nanu or Na'u
The Hawaiian Gardenia
The true Hawaiian gardenia (Gardenia brighamii) known as nanu (white Hawaiian gardenia) or the na'u (yellow Hawaiian gardenia) is endemic to Hawaii. That means that it is native to Hawaii. A few years ago it could still be found on a few of the Hawaiian islands. It has since been classified as near extinction.
Only six populations are still known to be on the islands of Moloka`i, O`ahu, and Lana`i totaling about 15 to 19 individual trees; it was once found also on Maui and Hawai`i but is believed to be gone as they haven't been spotted in the wild since 1955.
The Tahitian Gardenia (shown on right) is very similar in looks to the Hawaiian gardenia (Gardenia taitensis).
The Tahitian gardenia petals are more pointed towards the end, instead of rounded, and the petals are longer than the Hawaiian gardenia.
It is an evergreen tropical shrub native to the South Pacific and is one of the few cultivated plants native to Polynesia. The funny thing about its name is it is neither endemic nor naturalised in Tahiti. The bush originated in Micronesia and Western Polynesia.
They have the wonderful scent gardenias are so well known for and are worn in the hair behind the ear by many women in Hawaii. If you are taken you wear in on the left. If available it is worn on the right. If a cluster is worn on the back of the head it means "follow me".
The Common Gardenia
The common gardenia (Gardenia jasminoidesis) is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae, native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, southern Asia, and Australia.
An odd fact about the gardenia bloom is that even though the bloom is white, the faded blooms turn yellow and are used as a yellow dye. The dye is still used to dye fabric and food (including the Korean mung bean jelly called hwangpomuk). The petals can also stain clothing yellow when worn as a lei and is difficult to remove.
The common garden gardenia is often referred to incorrectly as a double gardenia.
Gardenia Bud Lei
Gardenias Come in Several VarietiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Large Fragrant Gardenia Plant in a Woven Basket
A Live Tropical Flowering Gardenia Plant! This tropical plant is the same white flowers used to create Hawaiian Gardenia Leis! This flowering plant gives off an intoxicating scent.
You can cut them for beautiful flower arrangements, wear them in your hair or string a lei with the blossoms. It would make a lovely gift!
I bought mine when I was living in Arizona a couple of years ago. Mine grew fairly quick when the weather was warm and sunny so be prepared with larger pots to transplant it every few months. In 4 months time, mine tripled in size and was covered in blooms.
When I first got it did not have any blooms.
I transplanted mine each time it got too top-heavy for its pot. They need sun and humidity and since Arizona is a dry heat I misted my plant several times a day. When I left Arizona I left it with a friend and it was huge.
Favorite Hawaiian Flower
Hawaii has so many beautiful flowers and plants that it is hard for me to decide which one I like the best. Can you decide? To keep it simple I will only list a few island favorites that you can vote on just for fun.
What Hawaiian Flower is Your Favorite?
Pakalana Le and Blossoms
Pakalana (Telosma cordata), also known as Chinese violet, fragrant telosma, Tonkin creeper, cowslip creeper, Chambangi, Fragancia nocturna and Parfum nocturne.
The plant is an evergreen, woody vine. The blossoms start as a greenish yellow, but when fully open they turn to a pale orange color.
As kids, we use to see it growing over fences everywhere during the summer months and whenever we need to make a quick lei we could run out and fill a paper bag with the blossoms to string a beautiful highly fragrant lei.
A common combination for an elegant aromatic lei are strands of pikake twisted with strands of pakalana.
Lei Pakalana - 1940s Hawaiian Song Performed by the Kingston Trio as Sweet as the Flower
Pua Kalaunu - Crown Flower
Crown Flower - Pua Kalaunu
Crown Flower Leis
Hawaiian Crown Flower - Pua Kalaunu
The crown flower is a native to Malaysia and Indonesia but is treasured in Hawaii.
For one, they are home to monarch butterflies and secondly they make beautiful leis that will last for several days with care.
Some say that the butterfly was named the "Monarch" because of their love of feasting on the crown flower plant. They also love to feed on the echinacea species of purple crown flower.
No one really knows for sure how they got to the islands, but the consensus is that they came with the early Hawaiians from Tahiti.
The colors of the flowers range from a pure snowy white to a creamy white to various shades of pale blues and lavenders. When the flowers are strung into leis (see below) they resemble miniature crowns.
As pretty and regal as the crown flower may be in appearance, they carry no fragrance so are often strung along with more fragrant blossoms such as pikake or intertwined with fragrant leis such as maile.
The leis of the crown flower (calotropis gigantea) were a favorite lei of Queen Liliuokalani and Princess Pauahi. They were often seen wearing long strands of the blossoms.
Monarch Butterfly Feeding on Crown Flower
Often you will see the Monarch's colony feasting in the branches of the crown flower bushes.
Bright jade green chrysalises with flecks of gold can be seen adorning the branches of the bushes like Chinese jade earrings dotted with flecks of gold.
When the sun reflects at just the right angle, they look like little green jewels dancing in the sunlight suspended in the air. The bushes do grow quite large and up to a height of 7 feet.
A closer look reveals the monarch caterpillars munching away at the leaves filling up before make their metamorphosis journey.
Hawaiian Tuberose - Kupaloke
Tuberose in Hawaii
Kupaloke, the Hawaiian word for tuberose, is an important flower in Hawaii for lei making because of it's heavy perfumed scent. Many flowers will begin losing their scent as soon as the flowers are picked but the tuberose, like jasmine, has a heady floral scent that continues to produce itself long after it has been picked and continues even with the flowers have dried and turned brown.
Commonly you will see tuberose strung in a lei combined with orchids, however, it is a flower that can be pair with any less scented flower.
Tuberose is a favorite for weddings along with the maile, pikake, and crown flower.
Beautiful haku lei po'os (braided head leis) are often created for the bride with a combination of tuberose, pikake and baby pink rose buds to be worn on her head. Both the bride and groom are adorned with multiple stands of leis.
The healing properties of tuberose are well known in the islands. The essential oils of the flower are expensive and many times hard to find in the mainland so many island visitors look for it when they come to Hawaii.
The tuberose is a night-blooming plant introduced to Hawaii through Mexico.
Tuberose, Jade, and Orchid Lei
The jade vine is a most unusual flowering vine that grows primarily in the rain forest, but can be seen in local yards everywhere in Hawaii.
The beautiful turquoise, claw shaped flowers are another favorite for lei making and at times appear almost neon-like or iridescent against the dark backdrop of the forest density.
The vine resembles a climbing pea vine with blossoms that hang in grape-like clusters, reaching lengths of four to five feet. The vine itself will grow, similar to wisteria, covering trellises, but at a much more rapid pace.
When the plant is cultivated in bright sunlight, it looses some of its neon qualities, but is still a beautiful muted turquoise color, with various shades of pale green to light lavender, to deep purple, at the base of the flower.
Red Jade Vine
There is one red variety (shown on right) that is an endemic vine (Strongylodon ruber) that grows wild in the forest areas of all the islands, except Lanai. This vine, the nuku 'i'iwi (beak of the 'i'iwi honeycreeper bird) usually has a deep red-orange to an exquisite deep scarlet color, and flowers similar to the New Guinea Creeper.
In ancient Hawaii, the flowers were used exclusively for leis for the ali'i (royalty), and the Kahuna (priest).
The vine was considered sacred to the hula goddess Laka and to her sister Kapo. With the kapu'ai system at the time, only those in the gods favor (ali'i and Kahuna) were of a high enough caliber to warrant wearing a sacred item.
The jade vine, or strongylodon macrobotrys, is native to the Luzon forest in the Philippine Islands, and was first introduced to Hawaii in 1950 Robert and John Allerton. They brought two plants with them, one of which was given to Fosters Botanical Gardens in Honolulu, which flourishes to this day.
The blooming season is usually from January to March but has been known to last much longer, mainly dependent on the weather conditions.
Bougainvillea is another imported species that we thank the Spanish for. They were first introduced to Hawai'i by Father Alexis John Augustine Bachelot, a catholic priest when he brought the plant with him in the early 1800s.
The thorny vine grows with a variety of brilliant colors, as you can see in the photos, and thrive with very little care. I love seeing their rich and vibrant hues of purple, pink, magenta, orange, fuchsia, red, green, yellow and white growing over stone walls or along the edges of people's homes while driving around the Big Island of Hawaii.
The odd thing about the Bougainvillea is that it has modified leaves, or bracts, that are actually the colorful parts that look like blossoms. The flowers are actually tiny white flowers that grow hidden within the bracts.
These brilliantly colored leaves are strung to make vibrantly colored leis. Unfortunately, bougainvillea does not have a scent so are often woven with scented flowers such as pikake and tuberose.
The photos are stunning and you can almost feel the texture of the plants and smell the flowers while your heart swells to the words of the Hawaiian authors.
"A Literary Lei" by Jim Wageman (Author), Virginia Wageman (Author) "WHEN MARK TWAIN PENNED THESE WORDS in 1866, he joined a long line of writers who have waxed ecstatic over Hawai'i's flowers and foliage...."
Virginia and her husband Jim Wageman teamed up to create this amazing book of matching Hawaiian literature to Jim's gorgeous photos of Hawaiian floral. Virginia, who served as The Honolulu Advertiser's art critic for years, died in 2003 at the age of 62.
The book is a treasure for anyone who loves Hawaii, flowers, poetry or great writing. It is easy to see through Virginia's eyes and understand how so many writers have been inspired through the beauty of Hawaiian flowers and plants.
Hawaiian Cut Flowers for Flower Arrangements
Hawaiian Red Anthurium Plant
Anthuriums in Hawai'i
Anthuriums are another flower that is associated with the Hawaiian islands, but it is also an imported flower.
Most people love these flowers because of their heart shapes, their brilliant red, pink, green and white colors and their sustainability.
Personally, I always found them odd looking. The look so artificial that they are not one of my favorites.
These flowers have a waxy almost plastic looking outer layer that enables them to last for weeks before they wilt and roll over dead.
According to Marie Neal (1948), the Anthurium andreanum was introduced into the Hawaiian Islands in 1889 by Samuel Mills Damon, the minister of finance for the Republic of Hawaii. These plants were imported from London and the species that he brought had shell pink spathes.
Since plants in the wild have spathes that range in color from cream to scarlet orange. I think hybridization and cross-pollination have been going on for many, many years.
When Anthuriums are arranged with other flowers of the islands they are very attractive and add texture, form and a variety of colors that are an enhancement to the arrangement.
The largest growers of Anthuriums in Hawai'i are on the Big Island of Hawai'i. If you travel there, make sure you go to the Hilo Farmer's Market and pick up a bunch.
Proteus in Hawaii
Proteus originate from both Africa and Australia. Its ancestors grew in Gondwanaland, 300 million years ago, while the land masses of what we know today were joined as one.
The Protea was named after the Greek god, Proteus who could change his appearance at will. It was originally named the "Sugarbush" by the English and wasn't rename Proteus until 1735 by Carolus Linnaeus who was a Swedish botanist.
This is another tropical flower that has an amazing diversity of shapes, sizes, hues and also textures. There are over 1,500 varieties that will entice you to literally reach out to feel their colors.
Some Proteus resemble feathers of exotic birds while others have the look of some futuristic plant from another planet.
All protea varieties have a long lasting quality to them and require little care other than changing the water every few days. They can also be dried to make interesting and artistic arrangements.
They are now grown on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai'i and on the slopes of Haleakala and "upcountry" Kula on the Island of Maui.
Hawaii's scientists have researched Protea and hybridized many so that Hawaii's growers can provide you with not only the best quality but some of the most beautiful and unusual varieties.
I do not know if it is possible to cultivate proteus from seed in areas of the mainland other than California and Arizona as the soil and weather conditions are so different from Hawaii. If ordering seeds online this may be a question that should be asked prior to purchase.
Bird of Paradise
The Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) is named so because of its flower's unique resemblance to a brightly colored tropical bird. It is also called the crane flower.
This slow growing, evergreen perennial is native to the subtropical coasts of southern Africa and is widely grown in warm regions. It is salt tolerant and will grow in most soils, but it thrives in rich soils with good drainage. The plant tends to produce more in warm regions.
The flowers bloom more actively in full bright sun, yet the leaves have a better, darker green color when planted in partial sunny spots.
They are a wonderful addition to Hawaiian floral arrangements as they bring vivid color and interest to a display.
Heliconia Psittacorum - Yellow Heliconia from the Hawaii Tropical Garden
There are so many different varieties of heliconia growing wild in Hawaii that I don't even know how many.
I just know there are hundreds of different species and they say even more species are evolving in the Hawaiian Islands all the time.
All I know is that they grow everywhere; from the tropical Hawaiian rain forest to the front and back yards of us islanders.
Under the right conditions, they are easy to grow and Hawaii has the right tropical conditions.
Some species of Heliconia plants can grow very tall. I can remember seeing Heliconias over 20 feet tall and still growing! I have seen their gigantic leaves stretching out over 10 feet.
The Heliconia is native to South and Central America and were originally brought to Hawaii by the Spanish from South America.
They are related to the Canna Lilies (shown below), and Bananas and have similar growth habits.
Canna Lily in Hawaii
The Canna lily is not a true lily. It is a genus of 19 different species of flora. The Cannas are related to the Zingiberales species that include the banana, ginger, marantas, heliconias, and strelitzias.
Here is an odd thing about canna lilies. They are a tropical plant and yet they are considered to be a perennial. They flourish in Hawaii and can be seen growing wild on all of the islands, yet ironically they are only supposed to grow well in zones 7 - 10. Hawaii is zoned 11 - 12. I have also spotted them all over Upstate New York, which is a zone 5. What this tells me is that they are a very hardy plant that can do well just about anywhere.
The canna lily comes in a variety of colors including creme, yellow, red, apricot, orange and many other hues and shades that are a combination of these basic colors. They can also be seen as cream colored flowers with orange freckles.
The genus originally came to Hawaii from Bolivia in South America. Canna lilies are are often called "Indian Shot", as their seeds are small, round, and hard like the lead shot that was used for shotguns in the late 1800 and early 1900.
Calla Lily Has Many Uses in Hawaii
In Hawaii, the seeds are used to fill the feathered gourds called uliuli. These gourds are used as musical instruments that accompany many of the Hawaiian hulas. When you shake the uliuli to the beat of the music, the seeds make a rattling sound.
The root, or rhizome, of the calla lily, is edible and is used as a thickener in food just like cornstarch and arrowroot. It Hawaii it is also used for cattle and pig feed, where it is harvested 4-8 months after planting just for that purpose, although you will see it as an ornamental flower on every island in many gardens.
In Thailand, Vietnam, China and the Philippine Islands, the starch is used to make cellophane noodles.
Just about every part of the plant is edible. The seeds, leaves and roots are used in Hawaiian medicine; the young shoots can be stir-fried and eaten as a green; Latino countries fry the immature seeds and eat them in tacos; and in South American countries the roots are cooked as a starch staple and eaten much the same way we eat poi in Hawaii.
A Rew of Our Food Source Plants in Hawaii
Passion Fruit - Pua Lilikoi
Pua Lilikoi - Passion Fruit
The passion fruit flower, or lilikoi, as it is named in Hawaii, as you can see is quite a beautiful and exotic flower.
The lilikoi vine has two distinct species in Hawaii, the more common yellow fruit and the less common purple variety. The flowers of both varieties develop into the oblong fruit.
In Hawaiian, you can pick the fruit growing wild and eat it right off of the vine. You can also pick bags of it, take it home and strain the juice from the big black seeds that are inside the fruit.
You will get some of the most exotic, refreshing nectar you have ever tasted! Ice cold, fresh lilikoi juice, is just another luxury that is available in Hawaii. You can watch the simple process in the video below to make a small amount of juice.
I have made the most delectable desserts from lilikoi juice, such as cheesecake, shortbread cookies and chiffon pies. They are pure heaven to the taste buds. Lilikoi margaritas? Yes, mame. You haven't lived until you have experienced one of these!
The purple passion fruit is a native of southern Brazil through Paraguay to northern Argentina. The yellow is of unknown origin. Theories are that it is native to the Amazon region of Brazil, or it's a hybrid, no one knows for sure.
The seeds of the purple were introduced to Hawaii from Australia by E.N. Reasoner in 1923, which has raised the theory that the yellow version may have originated there too and is a chance mutant that occurred in Australia. However, E.P. Killip, in 1938, described the lilikoi in its natural range as having both purple and/or yellow fruits.
How to Make Lilikoi Juice
Hawaii Taro Patch
Taro - The Mainstay of Hawaiian Food
Taro is a tuber root that is the main food staple of Hawaii and the core of the Hawaiian culture.
Taro is pounded or mashed into poi, it is steamed and eaten like a potato, it is made into sweet pastries, it is sliced thin and fried into taro chips, and the leaves are used in a variety of dishes as a green similar to spinach or Swiss chard.
Taro is considered sacred in Hawaii and is such an important part of Hawaiian culture that there are many beliefs and local customs that are based on taro.
For example, you cannot fight when the bowl of poi is open. In Hawaii, it is disrespectful to fight or raise your voice in anger in front of an elder. How is this connected to an open poi bowl? Because hakalo (taro) is the elder brother of humans, thus one must have respect for one's elders.
The ancient Hawaiians identified so strongly with taro being the strength of their survival and health that the Hawaiian word for family, ohana, is derived from the word oha, which is the shoot or sucker which grows from the kalo or the older root of the taro corm.
As the young shoots grow from the corm, people grow from the family. The stem of the taro plant is the ha, (breath), and the cluster of shoots that surround the mother plant are called keiki (children), which are all part of the ohana, or family.
The consumption of taro has grown immensely in Hawaii. With the increase in population, and with the decline in arable land because of development, the taro farmers are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. It is not uncommon these days to see people lined up to get their poi, and if you don't arrive soon enough it will be sold out.
There is also a huge controversy going on over genetic altering and patenting on taro. There is a kapu, (ban) placed on all genetic modifications and patenting of our genealogical brother the taro.
We believe that there should be limits to academic research when it conflicts with indigenous culture. We believe that no one can own our traditional knowledge, intellectual property rights or our biodiversity.
Ulu - Hawaiian Breadfruit
Ulu (breadfruit) was brought to Hawai'i around 750 A.D. with the Hawaiians when they arrived in Hawaiian islands. This fruit appears to be most unusual if you are not from Polynesia, but it is considered one of the Hawaiian staples.
The cream colored, starchy fruit has a sweet flavor, and can be used in stews much like the potato, but the texture is altogether different. Indians in Hawaii like to cook it with curry and coconut milk.
Sometimes the flavor resembles the taste of baked bread; hence the name, breadfruit. It is also eaten fried, and many like to fry it in butter and eat it with maple syrup for breakfast as you would pancakes.
Breadfruit can be roasted in the oven; roasted over an open fire; cooked in the imu, kalua style; boiled and served with butter; mashed and served with butter; baked; or added to cakes, bread or pies. I have even had it added to pudding.
The wood of the breadfruit tree is very similar to mahogany and is used in the construction of furniture, houses, and canoes. The plant is used as well to make glue and medicine, and the bark is even pounded into kapa cloth for fabric.
Breadfruit flowers can be burned to repel mosquitoes while the leaves make excellent food platters. Reaching heights of 75 feet, breadfruit trees provide shade and shelter for other crops and animals.
The leaves of the tree are so beautiful that many Hawaiian quilt patterns have been fashioned after the shapes of the leaves and fruit of the tree.
The breadfruit is believed to be native to the area extending from New Guinea through the Indo-Malayan Archipelago to Western Micronesia and onward into Polynesia.
On Captain Bligh's first voyage to Tahiti, in 1787, he was commission by the British government to get a cargo of ulu to take to the Caribbean Islands to feed the African plantation slaves. He attempted to take a cargo of 1,015 potted breadfruit plants to the British West Indies.
Unfortunately, ulu plants need a lot of water to survive and there wasn't enough water on board to feed the plants and the crew. In Captain Bligh's efforts to keep the plants alive, rather that his crew, his disastrous return voyage is well known as the Mutiny on the Bounty.
The Captain set out again in 1791 and delivered 5 different variety of breadfruit, totaling 2,126 plants, to Jamaica in February 1793.
A bit of trivia: The breadfruit is also known as a jackfruit.
I Hope You Enjoyed the Flowers and Plants of Hawaii
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