Plants in Hawaiian Culture

Plants and flowers play a large role in Hawaiian culture. From the state flower to the blooms used in making leis, the flowers produced by some of Hawaii's most well-known plants may signify an engagement or a good harvest. Hawaii is located in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness zones 10 and 11, and plants that thrive in the state are tropical.

Yellow Hibiscus

The state flower of Hawaii, the yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei) is native to Hawaii. It was adopted as the state flower in 1989. Yellow hibiscus blooms may be up to 6 inches in diameter, which have five petals and a deep red center. These shrubs will grow up to 15 feet in a home landscape. Foliage is dark green, fuzzy and has jagged edges. Yellow hibiscus thrives in full sun with regular water. The main blooming season is early spring to summer, but plants may bloom sporadically the rest of the year.


Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) was traditionally used to make leis during courtship or for marriage ceremonies. Also known as pikake in Hawaii, Arabian jasmine is highly fragrant and is used to make perfumes and, in Asia, tea. An evergreen shrub, jasmine grows to 5 feet with glossy green foliage. Flowers are 1-inch wide and grow in clusters. Arabian jasmine, which blooms in summer, thrives in full sun to part shade and requires regular water. Use on a trellis or in a container.


Frangipani is also commonly known by its botanic name, plumeria. A small tree or shrub, frangipani produces a waxy, fragrant, star-shaped flower that is used to make leis in Hawaii. In old Hawaii, leis were worn to signify a special event. In more modern times, leis may be given to special guests or worn on Lei Day, which is May 1. Some airlines give passengers leis upon their arrival in Hawaii as a welcoming gift. Frangipani can grow to 18 feet and foliage is leathery, pointy and dark green. Flowers are available in white, pink, red or yellow, though white is the most common. Frangipani thrives in full sun and requires moderate water.

Keywords: Hawaii flowers, Hawaii plants, leis, yellow hibiscus, tropical plants

About this Author

J.D. Chi is a professional journalist who has covered sports for more than 20 years at newspapers all over the United States. She has covered major golf tournaments and the NFL as well as travel and health topics. Chi received her Bachelor of Arts in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University and is working toward a master's degree in journalism.