Alight a airplane in Oahu and you'll probably receive some type of botanical gift as a welcome. Hawaii's tropical climate affords the cultivation of many flowering plants that are readily made into leis, head ornaments, bouquets or ankle or arm bracelets. Just because you see the flower in Hawaii doesn't mean it's native to the Island chain. The Polynesian word for flower is "pua."
The official state flower of Hawaii is the yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei), known locally as "pua aloalo." It's not the only hibiscus you'll encounter, especially since there are other native hibiscus, like the fragrant Arnott's hibiscus (Hibiscus arnottianus) as well as the non-native Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). The latter provides an amazing array of colors of flowers, which usually grow to the size of grapefruits or larger.
Heart of Hawaii
Not native to the Islands but rather tropical South America, heart of Hawaii (Anthurium spp.) makes a long-lasting cut flower. The spathe of the blossom is colorful, heart-shaped and waxy, often crinkly and is the backdrop for the finger-like spadix.
The frangipani (Plumeria spp.) is magnificently fragrant and perfect when strung to create a lei. Native to the cliffs of Central America, the frangipani tree needs little water to produce large clusters of flowers that are easily picked.
Beautiful in cut flower arrangements, red ginger (Alpinia purpurata), which is native to the South Pacific, produces long-lasting clustered flower bracts that are red or pink.
There are about 100 different species of heliconia, some native to the Pacific Islands. These flowers with leaves like those of banana plants produce waxy, colorful bracts that resemble lobster claws or parrot beaks and look great in floral bouquets. They are long-lasting if vase water is changed daily.
Pure and white in color with an intoxicating perfume, gardenia flowers make wondrous head ornaments as well as a table or bedroom favor. Especially well-received in Hawaii is the species known as tiare or the Tahitian gardenia (Gardenia taitensis), with apple-sized flowers with wide-spreading petals.
Pua Keni Keni
Pua Keni Keni translated from Hawaiian means "ten cent flower." The fragrant white blossoms are used to create lei chains, and each bloom traditionally costs a dime at the flower market. This species is Fagraea berteroana. Other species are used, too.