6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (2024)

These flowers capture the romance of the Islands.

Tracy Chan,

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (1)

When many visitors step out of the plane and breathe in Hawaii’s air, the first thing they often say is “it smells like flowers.” These six iconic flowers, although not all of them are indigenous, capture the romance and tropical beauty of the Islands.

Plumeria

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (2)

Few flowers remind people of Hawaii more than the ever-present plumeria, although the plants are found all over the world and are not native to Hawaii. The soft, velvety flower with an intoxicating sweet fragrance is often worn over the ear to indicate relationship status (on the left, closest to your heart, means you are “taken” and on the right means you are single).

Introduced to the Islands by a German botanist in 1860, the plumeria thrived in the tropical climate and volcanic soil of Hawaii, and several varieties unique to Hawaii have been bred. During World War II, it was a popular custom among sailors, and later other travelers, to toss a plumeria lei into the water as their ship passed Diamond Head. If the lei floated ashore, they would return. If it floated toward the ship, they wouldn’t be coming back.

Today, it is not uncommon to see visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial dropping individual plumeria petals into the water to honor the fallen.

You can find plumeria made into lei at Island airports, and plumeria trees along Hawaii roadways, around hotels and public buildings and growing in the wild along Hawaii Island’s coastlines and many Oahu trails.

Hawaiian Hibiscus

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (3)

Hawaii’s official state flower is the yellow hibiscus (hibiscus brackenridgei), also known as the pua mao hau hele. In 1923, the territory of Hawaii named the hibiscus the official flower, but did not specify a variety, which led to some confusion. Many citizens considered the native red hibiscus the official flower until Hawaii’s Legislature declared the yellow hibiscus the state flower in 1988. This is why you may see older photos with the red hibiscus noted as the state flower.

There are seven known species of hibiscus regarded as native to Hawaii; two indigenous and five endemic species. Over time, growers of the beautiful flower developed unique hybrids, producing the wide variety of colors and sizes found in Hawaii today. A good place to see several of these varieties is Koko Head Botanical Garden on the island of Oahu. The state flower can be found above sea level onMolokai,Lanai, Maui and theisland of Hawaii, as well as the yards of hibiscus aficionados, but if you see one in the wild, please don’t pick it—they are listed as an endangered species in their natural habitat. Fun fact: The hibiscus blooms almost daily but the bloom lasts for only a day or two.

Bird of Paradise

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (4)

When you think of the tropics, does this flower come to mind?

Originally native to South Africa, this iconic perennial with blooms that look like a tropical bird taking flight is now very popular in Hawaii, especially for cut flower arrangements, because of its long-lasting blooms and exotic colors.

During her time in Hawaii in the 1940s, famous floral artist Georgia O’Keefe painted “White Bird of Paradise,” one of her most famous works of this period.

You can find Bird of Paradise in most nurseries and flower shops, and along many of Hawaii’s waterfall hikes like the popular Akaka Falls trail on Hawaii Island and the Road to Hana on Maui.

Pikake

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (5)

The Hawaiian name for Jasmine, pikake, which translates to “peaco*ck,” was favored by Hawaii’s beloved Princess Kaiulani, who named the flower after her favorite bird. The scent of pikake is considered one of Hawaii’s signature scents.

Normally when making pikake lei, buds, rather than fully bloomed flowers, are woven together and several strands of buds combine to make a “rope lei.” These fragrant, delicate lei are often worn by brides, hula dancers and honored guests.

Ohia Lehua

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (6)

The hardy, brightly colored Ohia Lehua (five species are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and the red lehua flower is the official flower of Hawaii Island) is known as the first plant to begin growing on barren lava flows after a volcano has erupted. Perhaps this is why the Hawaiian legend behind this flower is often intertwined with the volcano goddess, Pele. The story goes like this: Once there was a handsome man named Ohia who caught the eye of the volcano goddess. But Ohia turned her down because he was in love with another woman, named Lehua. Furious, Pele transformed him into a gnarled, twisted tree with ashy bark. Lehua begged the gods to change him back, but rather than anger Pele, they decided on a compromise. They transformed Lehua into a blossom on the ohia tree so the lovers would be forever united. It is said that if you pick a Lehua flower off its tree, it will rain soon thereafter, the lovers’ tears at being separated.

Ohia wood was a very important hardwood in Native Hawaiian culture, although modern use is rare. It was used for constructing houses and the decks, seats and gunwales of canoes. The flowers were often used in lei, or for decorating hula altars. Both the bark and the young red leaves were used in medicine. You can find these beautiful flowers on all of the main Hawaiian islands, mostly at higher elevations.

Naupaka

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (7)

Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, these flowers are known for their delightful fragrance and the unique shape of their blooms that give you the impression half the flower is missing. There is a Hawaiian legend that explains the phenomenon: A beautiful Hawaiian princess, named Naupaka, fell in love with a commoner, who she was strictly forbidden to marry. An elderly wise man told them of a faraway heiau (temple) where they should pray and ask the priest for guidance. They traveled for days to reach the temple, but when they got there, the priest told them there was nothing he could do. Heartbroken, Naupaka took the white flower from her hair and tore it in half. She put one half of the flower in her lover’s hand and told him to return to the beach, that she would stay in the mountains. That is the explanation for why there are two different-looking variations of the naupaka plant, one that grows in the mountains, and one that grows on the beach, and why they look like only half a flower.

You can find these fragrant flowers (the more delicate “female” mountain naupaka has more of a fragrance than the “male” beach variety), growing wild on the beaches and hiking trails of all the Islands, and at places like the Honolulu Zoo, Ala Moana Park and Sandy Beach on Oahu.

Categories: Culture, Environment, Hilton Hawaii

Tags: bird of paradise, Hawaii flowers, hibiscus, naupaka, ohia lehua, pikake, plumeria, tropical flowers

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

As an expert in Hawaiian culture and the environment, I can provide information about the flowers mentioned in the article "These flowers capture the romance of the Islands." Let's explore each flower and its significance in Hawaiian culture:

Plumeria

The plumeria is a flower that is often associated with Hawaii. Although it is not native to the islands, it has become a symbol of the tropical beauty and romance of Hawaii. The plumeria is known for its soft, velvety petals and intoxicating sweet fragrance. It is commonly worn over the ear, with placement indicating relationship status. Wearing the flower on the left side, closest to the heart, signifies being "taken," while wearing it on the right side indicates being single. The plumeria was introduced to Hawaii by a German botanist in 1860 and has since thrived in the tropical climate and volcanic soil. Varieties unique to Hawaii have been bred, and the flower is often used to make leis, which are traditional Hawaiian garlands. During World War II, it was a popular custom among sailors and travelers to toss a plumeria lei into the water as their ship passed Diamond Head. If the lei floated ashore, it was believed that they would return, but if it floated toward the ship, it meant they wouldn't be coming back. Today, visitors can find plumeria lei at Island airports, and plumeria trees can be seen along Hawaii roadways, around hotels, public buildings, and growing in the wild along Hawaii Island's coastlines and many Oahu trails.

Hawaiian Hibiscus

The yellow hibiscus, also known as hibiscus brackenridgei or pua mao hau hele, is Hawaii's official state flower. However, there was some confusion regarding the official flower, as many citizens considered the native red hibiscus to be the state flower until the yellow hibiscus was declared the official flower by Hawaii's Legislature in 1988. There are seven known species of hibiscus regarded as native to Hawaii, with two indigenous and five endemic species. Over time, unique hybrids of hibiscus have been developed, resulting in a wide variety of colors and sizes found in Hawaii today. The yellow hibiscus can be found above sea level on Molokai, Lanai, Maui, the island of Hawaii, as well as in the yards of hibiscus enthusiasts. It is important to note that the yellow hibiscus is listed as an endangered species in its natural habitat, so it is advised not to pick them if found in the wild. The hibiscus blooms almost daily, but each bloom only lasts for a day or two.

Bird of Paradise

The Bird of Paradise flower, originally native to South Africa, has become popular in Hawaii due to its long-lasting blooms and exotic colors. This perennial flower resembles a tropical bird taking flight and is often used in cut flower arrangements. The famous floral artist Georgia O'Keeffe painted "White Bird of Paradise" during her time in Hawaii in the 1940s, which became one of her most famous works. Bird of Paradise flowers can be found in most nurseries and flower shops in Hawaii, as well as along many of the islands' waterfall hikes, such as the Akaka Falls trail on Hawaii Island and the Road to Hana on Maui.

Pikake

Pikake is the Hawaiian name for Jasmine and translates to "peaco*ck." It was named by Princess Kaiulani, who named the flower after her favorite bird. The scent of pikake is considered one of Hawaii's signature scents. When making pikake lei, buds are often woven together to create a "rope lei." These fragrant and delicate lei are commonly worn by brides, hula dancers, and honored guests. Pikake flowers are often found in the yards of enthusiasts and can be seen at various locations such as the Honolulu Zoo, Ala Moana Park, and Sandy Beach on Oahu.

Ohia Lehua

The Ohia Lehua is a hardy and brightly colored flower that is known as the first plant to grow on barren lava flows after a volcano eruption. It is deeply intertwined with Hawaiian legends and is often associated with the volcano goddess, Pele. According to one legend, a man named Ohia caught the eye of Pele, but he turned her down because he was in love with a woman named Lehua. In her fury, Pele transformed Ohia into a gnarled tree, and Lehua begged the gods to reunite them. As a compromise, the gods transformed Lehua into a blossom on the Ohia tree, symbolizing their eternal union. It is believed that if you pick a Lehua flower off its tree, it will rain soon thereafter, representing the tears of the separated lovers. Ohia wood was highly valued in Native Hawaiian culture and was used for constructing houses, canoes, and hula altars. The flowers were also used in lei making and for medicinal purposes. Ohia Lehua flowers can be found on all of the main Hawaiian islands, mostly at higher elevations.

Naupaka

Naupaka flowers are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and are known for their delightful fragrance and unique bloom shape, which gives the impression that half of the flower is missing. According to Hawaiian legend, a princess named Naupaka fell in love with a commoner, but their love was forbidden. They sought guidance from a wise man who directed them to a temple where they prayed for a solution. The priest told them that they could not be together, and heartbroken, Naupaka tore her white flower in half. She gave one half to her lover and asked him to return to the beach while she stayed in the mountains. This legend explains why there are two different-looking variations of the naupaka plant, one that grows in the mountains and one that grows on the beach, symbolizing the lovers' separation. Naupaka flowers can be found growing wild on the beaches and hiking trails of all the Hawaiian Islands, as well as in places like the Honolulu Zoo, Ala Moana Park, and Sandy Beach on Oahu.

These flowers mentioned in the article capture the beauty, fragrance, and cultural significance of Hawaii. They are not only visually stunning but also hold deep meaning in Hawaiian traditions and legends.

I hope this information helps you appreciate the rich floral heritage of Hawaii! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

6 Iconic Tropical Flowers That Will Make You Think of Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (2024)

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dr. Pierre Goyette

Last Updated:

Views: 5504

Rating: 5 / 5 (50 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dr. Pierre Goyette

Birthday: 1998-01-29

Address: Apt. 611 3357 Yong Plain, West Audra, IL 70053

Phone: +5819954278378

Job: Construction Director

Hobby: Embroidery, Creative writing, Shopping, Driving, Stand-up comedy, Coffee roasting, Scrapbooking

Introduction: My name is Dr. Pierre Goyette, I am a enchanting, powerful, jolly, rich, graceful, colorful, zany person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.