Anyone who sets foot on the Hawaiian Islands for the first time is left with an indelible impression on their senses so heady it is nearly impossible to forget. Sights, sounds and smells are so unlike any environment on the mainland United States that colors back home may seem dimmer, sounds may be harsh and the smell of a rose may never seem as sweet. The tropical flowers of Hawaii are so important to its residents as a symbol of their culture that travelers to the islands are welcomed with leis--fragrant, delicate flowers hand strung and offered as part of a welcoming embrace. As the iconic American author Mark Twain penned after experiencing Hawaii, "In my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago."
Also known by the common name frangipani, Plumeria is part of the dogbane family. It is the most widely recognized flower for making of leis. This fragrant flower requires full sun and well-drained soil that possesses a bit of acidity. Plumeria will tolerate a modicum of wind and a salty environment, which makes it an excellent specimen for growing in Hawaii. This flower is actually produced on a tree that in about five years reaches a mature height of 30 feet. "The flowers are tubular, expanding into a 'pinwheel' of five petals that average 2 to 3 inches in diameter and may be white, red, yellow, pink or multicolored," according to the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture. Bloom season is March to October and the plant may be propagated by cutting or hand cultivation of a seedpod directly from the tree, as there is no retail seed available.
Also known as Jasminum sambac, Pikake is a flower also used in leis; however, these types are usually worn on special occasions and during ceremony. Single white Plumeria buds may be pierced through the flower tube of the bud and placed at alternating angles on the string to eventually form a rope-like strand, or pierced end to end to make single strands. The University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources advises that "long days and hot weather favor good production and large flowers. Pikake grows best in dry locations and it flowers most profusely when grown in full sun." This plant prefers rich, well-drained soil conditions that are loamy, silty clay or sandy and requires 1 inch of water per week with a drying-out period between watering.
Bird of Paradise
The flower of the Bird of Paradise inspires this plant's name, as well as its other moniker of Crane Flower. The plant is tolerant of Hawaii's salty conditions and loves sun-drenched, rich, well-drained soil. The plant produces a long stalk on which the flower head develops. The stalks may produce up to three fluorescent orange-and-blue, pointed flowers each. The plant itself fans out in a dense clump of pointed grey-green elongated leaves that resemble a blunted sword. Bird of Paradise may be propagated by division or by seed if the gardener is long on patience, as it takes seedlings three to five years to produce blooms. At a slightly speedier rate, the new plantings culled from division will flower in one to two years, according to the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture at Manoa.