The state flower of Hawaii is the yellow or Hawaiian hibiscus, more formally known as hibiscus brackenridgei. Hawaii originally chose hibiscus of any color as the official territorial flower in the 1920s. In 1988, however, the state Legislature officially adopted the yellow hibiscus as Hawaii's flower.
Hibiscus is a tropical plant in the mallow family. In the wild, the hibiscus can grow into a small tree up to 30 feet high. In gardens, however, it most often takes the form of a shrub, growing between 3 to 15 feet high and 8 to 15 feet wide. The leaves are fuzzy and shaped like the leaves of a maple; they have toothed edges with either three, five or seven lobes. The flowers are bright yellow in color, usually with a maroon center, and are quite large (4 to 6 inches in diameter). The blooms last one day only, opening between 2 and 4 p.m. and closing between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The plant's main flowering season is spring through summer, though it will produce occasional blooms throughout the year. The Hawaiian hibiscus thrives in full sun and has a low requirement for water.
Hawaii's state flower is native to the islands' dry lowland forests and shrublands, usually appearing at elevations between 400 to 2,600 feet. It is endemic to Hawaii, meaning it appears naturally nowhere else in the world. It is not found at all on two Hawaiian islands, Ni'hau and Kaho'olawe, and it is not common on the rest of the islands.
Because of development, fires, overgrazing by both livestock and feral animals, and competition from invasive non-native plants, the number of hibiscus brackenridgei left in the wild is very low. The U.S. Botanic Garden reports that there are fewer than 60 plants in total remaining on the islands of Maui, Hawaii and Lana'i. Conservationists are working to enforce weed control, fencing to repel grazing animals, and preservation of the remaining habitat, as well as conserving Hawaiian hibiscus plants and seeds in botanic gardens and seed banks.
Endangered plants should never be harvested in the wild. Seeds and cuttings are available from licensed nurseries for those who wish to grow the plant in their own yard. The University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources reports that one study showed that propagation by cuttings of hibiscus brackenridgei was the fastest method. But another study showed that the same plants propagated from seeds were more vigorous.
Native Meanings and Names
The hibiscus is a favorite pattern in clothing, often appearing on Hawaiian-style shirts. Women of the islands often wore them as a decoration in the hair, and tradition says that a hibiscus worn above the right ear sends the message that one is available. A flower above the left ear indicates that one has a sweetheart. In the Hawaiian language, "pua" means flower and "aloalo" refers to hibiscus in general.