Native Flowers in Hawaii

There are many lovely exotic flowers in Hawaii's landscape, but the exquisite beauty of Hawaii's precious native flowers rivals them in every way. Native Hawaiian plants produce a dazzling collection of flowers, from the graceful to the truly strange. To appreciate their special qualities up close, you may need to explore some of the islands' wilder places or visit parks or botanical gardens. Once you've fallen under the spell of Hawaii's native flowers, you will agree they are well worth seeking out.

Coastal Flowers

Ilima (Sida fallax) bears papery, disk-shaped flowers that range from yellow to golden orange. The plant is a woody perennial that varies in habit from a tall, upright bush to a prostrate shrub. Ilima leis are extremely time consuming to make because each lei may require up to 700 blossoms. This very special lei signifies that the wearer is from Oahu, where it was a common plant on coastal areas in former times. Pohuehue (Ipomoea pes-caprae) produces large, brilliant purple, tubular flowers, that open in the morning and close or wilt in the heat of the day. The plant itself is a trailing beach vine with thick, green, elliptical leaves. It is a favorite plant of endangered green sea turtles, which often dig their nests near these plants.

Dry Forest Flowers

Hawaii is home to several species of native hibiscus, including the golden yellow ma'o hau hele (Hibiscus brakenridgei), which is Hawaii's state flower. A large, pure white flower called kokio keokeo (Hibiscus waimeae) is the only known fragrant hibiscus. The smaller flowers of the scarlet kokio ula are every bit as lovely as its larger ornamental cousins. Flowers from the endemic hala pepe (Pleomele hawaiiensis) are associated with the Goddess Kapo, a patroness of hula, and were traditional adornments for the hula altar. These large, pendant clusters of cream to yellow, tube shaped blossoms form at the base of leaf clusters atop bare woody trunks. The endangered nanu (Gardenia brighamia) is one of Hawaii's native gardenias found in undisturbed dry forests. This snowy white flower has six to eight petals and is highly fragrant. Unlike other gardenias, nanus grows into large trees up to 18 feet tall.

Wet Forest Flowers

The nuku i'iwi (Strongylodon ruber) flower resembles the beak of a native red bird called the i'iwi. These blossoms hang in clusters from a rare vine, which is found only in older, dimly lit, wet forests. The flowers are specially shaped to allow certain native birds to feed on their nectar, and are thus pollinated. Lehua is the Hawaiian name for the giant pompom shaped flowers found on the ohia lehua tree (Metrosideros polymorpha).These brightly colored, nectar rich blossoms occur in red, yellow, pink and even white. The endemic ohia lehua tree was formerly widespread on all the Hawaiian Islands and is considered sacred to the Goddess Pele. Beautiful leis made of lehua blossoms are still worn by traditional hula dancers today.

Keywords: native flowers, Hawaii natives, endemic

About this Author

Malia Marin is a landscape designer and freelance writer, specializing in sustainable design, native landscapes and environmental education. She holds a Masters in landscape architecture, and her professional experience includes designing parks, trails and residential landscapes. Marin has written numerous articles, over the past ten years, about landscape design for local newspapers.