Flower Facts Flower Information Tropical

Hawaiian Flowers: Traditional and Native

Plumeria flowers blooming in Hawaii

As a tropical archipelago set away from much of the world, Hawaii is home to an array of exquisite flowers—some of which can’t be found anywhere else! Some of these flowers have made their way to tropical-inspired bouquets, others exist only in Hawaiian landscapes, and an important few appear in traditional Hawaiian ceremonies and celebrations.

We’re going to introduce you to some of the most popular Hawaiian flowers. You’ll learn about well-known favorites such as the bird of paradise flower and plumeria as well as lesser-known island wonders like ‘uki’uki and native yellow hibiscus.

Flowers in Hawaii

As a relatively isolated archipelago, Hawaiian ecosystems are a bit less susceptible to influences from other areas. That doesn’t mean the island chain is immune to threats from invasive species, but it does mean most of its landscapes are still made up of native plants. And many of these plants fit into the tropical splendor you think about when envisioning lush and colorful Hawaii.

Since Hawaii is physically isolated from other landmasses, many of the flowers found on the island are unique from those found elsewhere. While flowers in the mainland United States often sprawl across the ragged peaks of the Mountain West or the green forests of the Appalachians, Hawaiian flowers are sometimes found only in Hawaii. However, some flowers have entered the island from other locations and become mainstays over time.

Many Hawaiian flowers hold important significance to indigenous Hawaiians. Some were used in ceremonies while others were used to dye clothes.

Anthurium (Anthurium genus)

`Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen anthurium before. These plants are popular houseplants due to their waxy green leaves and elongated flowers that are surrounded by colorful bracts known as spathes. Anthuriums are not native to Hawaii, but they were introduced over a hundred years ago and are now present throughout the islands.

Anthuriums are also grown in Hawaii to be shipped to other areas as potted plants and cut flowers. The flowers are often said to symbolize welcoming hospitality due to their heart-shaped leaves.

Beach Naupaka (Scaevola sericea)

If you walk along the Hawaiian coast, you may see the native beach naupaka popping up from sand and rocks. The salt-tolerant shrubby plants produce glossy green leaves and fan-shaped flowers. Hawaiian legend says that the flowers symbolize lovers that were separated and unable to reunite—love is cruel sometimes, isn’t it?

Beehive Ginger (Zingiber spectabile)

Although it’s in the same genus as the popular culinary ginger, beehive ginger is known for its showy flowers rather than spicy rhizomes. The rounded and textured ‘flowers’ are actually modified leaves called bracts. These bracts resemble beehives and can range in color from yellow to red to pink. This plant is native to Southeast Asia (not Hawaii) but is grown throughout the islands as an ornamental plant and cut flower.


Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia reginae)

The bird of paradise is another flowering plant that isn’t native to Hawaii but has become well-known on the island. As its name suggests, this plant produces stunning flowers that resemble the beautiful bird of paradise. The flower matches the colorful and tropical feeling associated with Hawaii.

The exquisite flower is known as a symbol of magnificence as well as beauty. The flower’s lifted ‘wings’ can also symbolize the search to obtain a higher spiritual state.

Bird of paradise flower

Heliconia (Heliconia genus)

A large genus, heliconia consists of plants known as lobster claws and false bird of paradise. All of the plants are known for their vibrantly colored and interestingly shaped bracts that surround small flowers. Although heliconia plants aren’t native to Hawaii, they have become naturalized on the islands and are grown for cut flower production.

People often see these plants as symbols of youthfulness as well as prosperity and success. That means these flowers may be good gifts for individuals who are starting a new job or graduating.

Nanu (Gardenia brighamii)

This type of gardenia is native to Hawaii where it grows as a large shrub or small tree. Unfortunately, it’s quite rare and has become a federally recognized endangered species. And that’s a shame, since the gorgeous white flowers produce a delicious floral fragrance with hints of coconut.

Nanu flowers are sometimes used to create leis, but their diminishing populations make this practice less common. People also used the orange fruit’s flesh to dye fabric and kapa.

Native Yellow Hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei)

Known as ma’o hau hele in Hawaiian, this type of hibiscus is native to the island of Oahu. It grows as a large shrub or small tree and produces large yellow blooms with long, showy stamens. Although some hibiscus species are quite common, ma’o hau hele is a federally endangered species.

This hibiscus species was designated as the official state flower in 1988. Its Hawaiian name means green traveling hibiscus, which may refer to the fact that the flowers become green when dried.

Orchids (Orchidaceae family)

The tropical Hawaiian weather is perfect for a wide variety of orchids. However, only three orchids are native to the island state. While imported orchids readily grow throughout Hawaiian gardens, these native species are a bit rarer.

All types of orchids are seen as symbols of beauty, love, and thoughtfulness. That means ordering an orchid delivery can be a great way to help someone celebrate a birthday or remind them that you care.

White and pink orchid plant growing in Hawaii

Pikake (Jasminum sambac)

Pikake flowers, also known as Arabian jasmine, are known for their alluring, sweet fragrance. Although they’re not native to Hawaii (they were introduced in the 1800s from Southeast Asia), they are now popular flowers across the islands. The flowers open at night and appear upon shrubs or vines.

They’re sometimes used to create delicate white leis that exude a strong fragrance. Since pikake flowers are seen as symbols of love and romance, these leis are especially popular at events like weddings and anniversary celebrations.

Plumeria (Plumeria genus)

When you think of a traditional Hawaiian lei, you may be envisioning plumeria flowers. Although these flowering shrubs weren’t introduced to Hawaii until the 1800s, they are now grown throughout the islands for lei production. In Hawaii, these flowers are sometimes known as melia.

The flowers are sometimes seen as symbols of good luck, especially when changes are occurring. This may be due to the flower’s beautiful appearance of their sweet, spicy, or fruity fragrance.

Red Ginger (Alpinia purpurata)

While many people associated the word ginger with the zingy rhizome used to flavor curries and sauces, red ginger is an entirely different plant. In fact, red ginger aka ostrich plume, is in an entirely different genus than the popular culinary ginger. What red ginger lacks in flavor it makes up for in beauty—the plant produces showy displays of colorful bracts which many people refer to as flowers.

Red ginger is commonly grown as a cut flower for tropical flower bouquets. Hawaiian growers ship the long-lasting flower to other areas and also utilize the flower’s enduring nature to decorate graves. The bright red color also means red ginger is sometimes seen as a symbol of passion.

Red ginger plant blooming

‘Uki’Uki (Dianella sandwicensis)

Also known as the Hawaiian lily, this flower isn’t a lily at all! However, botanists once thought it belonged to this well-known plant family. The flowers are quite small with blue, white, and yellow coloration and sit amongst tall, slender leaves. This growth form means people often plant ‘uki’uki as a border or groundcover.

Hawaiians have used the plant’s bright purple fruits to dye kapa—cloth made from tree and shrub fibers. People also used the plant’s slender leaves to make rope and thatch roofs. 

Celebrate Any Occasion with Hawaiian Flowers

No matter if you’re celebrating a birthday, wishing someone luck during graduation, or just looking to add some tropical beauty to your life, Hawaiian flowers can help. The Bouqs Co. offers tropical flower bouquets that feature Hawaiian flowers like beehive ginger and anthurium. And if you want to enjoy Hawaiian flowers in a different way, you can look into creating your own lei.

When it comes time to explore other types of blooms, take a minute to learn about Mexican flowers, Japanese flowers, and African flowers.

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