15 Beautiful Hawaiian Tropical Flowers You Must See
Visiting Hawaii and not witnessing its magical tropical flowers is like having cake without the frosting on top 😉 With over 90% native to Hawaii plants found nowhere else in the world, Hawaiian flora exhibits a captivating array of colors and fragrances.
What is Hawaii’s most beautiful flower?
The most beautiful flowers in Hawaii are:
- Plumeria Flower
- Hawaiian Hibiscus Flower
- Tropical Bird of Paradise
- Ohia Lehua
- Hawaiian Gardenia (Nau or Nanu)
- Hawaiian Lily (Uki Uki)
- Hawaiian Poppy (Pua Kala)
- Hawaiian Red Cranesbill
- Silver Geranium (Hinahina)
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This article will guide you through 15 beautiful Hawaiian tropical flowers that are an absolute must-see during your visit to this Pacific paradise. Let’s embark on this blooming adventure! (Oh, I love puns!)
Key Takeaways of Hawaiian Tropical Flowers
- Hawaii is home to a wide variety of beautiful tropical flowers, with over 90% of its native plants found nowhere else in the world.
- Some must-see Hawaiian tropical flowers include Plumeria, Hawaiian Hibiscus, Bird of Paradise, Pikake, Ohia Lehua, Naupaka, Heliconia, Hinahina, Koʻoloaʻula (Bird of Paradise), Anthurium, Hawaiian Gardenia (Nau or Nanu), Hawaiian Lily (Uki Uki), Hawaiian Poppy (Pua Kala), Hawaiian Red Cranesbill and Silver Geranium (Hinahina).
- Many of these flowers have unique features and fragrances that make them stand out. They hold cultural significance and are often used for making leis or adding beauty to landscapes.
- While some species are rare or endangered in Hawaii due to habitat loss and invasive species threats, efforts are being made to protect and preserve these delicate floral treasures.
Official Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands
Hawaii is known for its beautiful and unique flowers, many of which are endemic to the islands. Here is a list of the official flowers for each of the Hawaiian islands:
- Hawaii (The Big Island): ʻŌhiʻa Lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha). This is a flowering evergreen tree native to the Hawaiian islands.
- Maui: Lokelani or Pink Cottage Rose (Rosa damascena). Unlike many of the other Hawaiian island flowers, this is not a native plant but is still cherished on Maui.
- Oʻahu: Ilima (Sida fallax). This native shrub has small yellow or orange flowers, and making a lei from them is labor-intensive, making such leis highly valued.
- Kauaʻi: Mokihana (Pelea anisata). This is actually a berry, not a flower, from a tree native to Kauaʻi. It’s often used as a material for leis.
- Molokaʻi: Kukui or Candlenut (Aleurites moluccanus). The nuts from this tree are often polished and strung into leis.
- Lānaʻi: Kaunaʻoa or Yellow and Orange Air Plant (Cuscuta sandwichiana). This is a parasitic vine with tiny, thread-like stems.
- Niʻihau: Pūpū (tiny seashells). Niʻihau is known for its exquisite shell leis.
- Kahoʻolawe: Hinahina or Beach Heliotrope (Heliotropium anomalum). It’s a native plant with silvery-gray foliage.
Each of these flowers, or in some cases lei materials, not only symbolizes its respective island but also holds a special place in the hearts of the Hawaiian people and their rich cultural traditions.
The Enchanting World of Flowers from Hawaii
Hawaii is a place full of color. There are many incredible tropical Hawaiian flowers and plants in Hawaii that you can’t find anyplace else. The Hawaiian islands have both native and introduced flowers. Both types add to the beauty of Hawaii.
1. Plumeria Flower
Plumeria is a must-see flower in Hawaii. This eye-catching bloom shows off colors like white, yellow, pink, red and purple. People love Plumeria for its sweet smell and bright look.
A plumeria lei exudes a captivating fragrance and embodies the spirit of aloha, making it a cherished gift in Hawaii.
Growing a Plumeria outside of Hawaii can be done too! With the right care, they will also flourish on the continental U.S. Their blooms range from scarlet red to creamy white or even bright orange.
Plan a trip to see these amazing Hawaiian flowers up close!
2. Hawaiian Hibiscus Flower
The Hawaiian Hibiscus is a sight to behold. It is one of the prettiest tropical flowers in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian hibiscus encompasses seven species, with the yellow hibiscus recognized as Hawaii’s state flower. These native species originated from four distinct colonization events. Although the non-native Chinese hibiscus is commonly cultivated in Hawaii, the indigenous Hibiscus arnottianus is sometimes planted.
The yellow hibiscus, sadly, is endangered, with animals like goats and pigs posing threats. It was designated Hawaii’s state flower in 1988. Meanwhile, the Hibiscus brackenridgei stands as another symbol of Hawaii’s unique flora.
The yellow hibiscus thrives on all Hawaiian Islands except Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe and varies in size from small shrubs to tall trees.
A visit to Hawaii is not complete without seeing it. Even among many beautiful flowers, the Hawaiian Hibiscus stands out!
3. Tropical Bird of Paradise
The Bird of Paradise is a must-see flower in Hawaii. The bird of paradise, while not indigenous to Hawaii, has become deeply ingrained in its landscape and culture.
Growing wild on the islands, it’s locally known as “Little Globe,” symbolizing magnificence, joy, and paradise. Originating from Madagascar, this exotic bloom is present in Hawaii in various species, including the impressive giant bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia nicolai).
With its unique bird-like appearance, the flower isn’t just a visual delight. It has captivated scientists, leading to optics, materials science, and engineering breakthroughs. For those keen to own a piece of this wonder, the Hawaiian bird of paradise plant is available from local vendors.
It adds bold color to Hawaii’s mix of tropical flowers. The Bird of Paradise stands out as one of the top 15 Hawaiian flowers you should see.
Pikake, also referred to as Arabian or Indian jasmine (Jasminum sambac), originates from India. This climbing shrub boasts round leaves and distinctive white flowers about an inch across. Commercially cultivated in countries like India, Thailand, and the Philippines, its fragrant flowers serve multiple purposes: from perfumery to tea flavoring.
Its scent is amazing, especially in a pikake lei! Perfumes and oils are all common uses of this fragrant flower.
The Philippines, where it’s their national flower, recognizes it as “sampaguita.” Beyond its floral appeal, the pikake aroma is believed to boost self-confidence, alleviate fear, and act as an aphrodisiac. As a resilient plant, pikake makes a splendid, drought-resistant addition to Hawaiian gardens.
5. Ohia Lehua
Ohia Lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) is integral to Hawaiian culture and ecology. As the dominant native tree, it makes up 80% of Hawaii’s indigenous forests.
Belonging to the Myrtaceae family, this versatile plant can manifest as a modest bush or grow into a grand tree, sometimes reaching heights of 82 feet. Remarkably, Ohia Lehua thrives in the aftermath of volcanic activity, colonizing fresh lava flows and sprouting directly from lava rock. Its blossoms, dense with stamens, captivate with hues from fiery red to yellow.
Beyond its natural allure, the tree holds cultural significance, often featuring in Hawaiian mo’olelo (stories). A poignant legend recounts the love story of ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua, where ʻŌhiʻa is transformed into a tree by a scorned Pele, the volcano goddess, and Lehua, in her grief, becomes the tree’s flower.
The tree’s resources were historically utilized, with its wood fashioned into tools and its leaves brewed as medicinal tea. It supports a biodiverse ecosystem, housing native insects and rare tree snails.
Yet, the Ohia Lehua faces threats, notably the Rapid Ohia Death, a fungal affliction jeopardizing its prevalence in Hawaii.
This exotic flower, also known as Strelitzia reginae, thrives in sunny spaces and damp forests alike. Its unusual shape captures your attention at first glance. Catching a glimpse of an Ohia Lehua during your trip will make your visit more memorable!
RELATED PODCAST: The Legend of Pele
Naupaka (Scaevola sencea) is a distinctive Hawaiian shrub recognized for its singular flowers and rich legendary tapestry. Naupaka holds a special place among the flowers found in Hawaii.
It thrives both by the sea and in Hawaii’s mountains, dividing into two primary varieties: Naupaka Kahakai, seaside-dwelling, and Naupaka Kauihiwa, mountain-residing.
While the seaside Naupaka flourishes along various tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean coasts, in Hawaii, it stands as a staple beach plant, with nine diverse species identified.
Its flowers, uniquely resembling half blooms, echo the heart-wrenching legend of a Hawaiian princess, Naupaka, and her lover, Kaui. Their forbidden love led to their separation between the mountains and the sea, immortalized in the Naupaka’s blossoms.
Beyond its symbolic significance, Naupaka’s medicinal properties address several ailments, from cuts to skin irritations. Its delicate blooms also embellish traditional Hawaiian leis, making it a favored choice for beachside celebrations, particularly weddings.
These lovely blooms are often used to make leis. So, when you visit Hawaii, don’t miss out on seeing these special flowers!
Heliconia is a stunning tropical flower that you must see when visiting Hawaii. It has vibrant red colors that will catch your eye.
It is a genus native to the tropical Americas and has marked its vibrant presence in regions like Hawaii and parts of the western Pacific.
Recognized for their striking flower bracts in red, orange, yellow, and green hues, these plants also boast large leaves with potential coppery tones and often, ivory or pink midribs. While hummingbirds, attracted by their brilliant colors and nectar, typically pollinate the flowers, the plants predominantly flourish during Hawaii’s rainy season, gracing rainforests and humid tropical zones.
They’re especially prized for their ornamental appeal in tropical gardens. Of the approximately 200 Heliconia species, most hail from the neotropics. However, it’s noteworthy that some are considered vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List.
Demanding warm, moist surroundings, they falter in cold or arid climates. The fruit, once matured, is a drupe, encasing true seeds within a robust inner layer. In essence, Heliconias enrich the Hawaiian vista with their lush, colorful allure.
So make sure to add Heliconia to your list of must-see flowers when you explore the enchanting world of Hawaiian tropical flowers.
Hinahina, or beach heliotrope (Heliotropium anomalum), is a distinct indigenous plant prevalent across the Pacific, including Hawaii. This low-growing shrub graces the shorelines of all Hawaii’s main islands, recognized by its silvery-gray, fuzzy leaves resulting from fine hairs. Specifically adapted to coastal terrains, Hinahina flourishes amidst salt sprays and sandy soils.
As an emblematic component of Hawaii’s flora, it’s deeply embedded in Hawaiian cultural traditions. Furthermore, its ecological role is pivotal, aiding coastal ecosystem restoration and combating erosion in the region. In essence, Hinahina stands out in Hawaii for both its aesthetic appeal and its resilience in coastal habitats.
Hinahina is often mistaken for a succulent because of its similar appearance. This special flower is actually the official flower of Kaho’olawe, one of the islands in Hawaii.
Photo by David Eickhoff on Flickr
Koʻoloaʻula, known as the Kaho’olawe silversword (Argyroxiphium kauense), is a unique plant exclusive to Kaho’olawe, Hawaii. Endemic to this island, it’s a member of the silversword alliance, characterized by its silvery-gray leaves, belonging to the sunflower family.
It has a distinct appearance with a rosette of leaves close to the ground and can produce a tall flowering stalk, reaching up to 6 feet, adorned with yellow flowers.
This plant is endangered due to threats like habitat degradation and invasive species. Organizations like the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission are actively involved in its conservation. Kaho’olawe, being a sacred island in Hawaiian culture, values Koʻoloaʻula for its cultural and ecological significance.
However, access to its habitat is restricted, necessitating special permissions to visit. In essence, Koʻoloaʻula stands as a testament to Kaho’olawe’s rich ecosystem and heritage.
Anthurium, first introduced to Hawaii in 1889 by Samuel Mills Damon from England, has since become deeply integrated into the Hawaiian floriculture.
The vibrant Obake Anthurium hybrids, entirely native to Hawaii, began their hybridization journey in the early 1930s. These plants, part of the vast Araceae family with over 1,500 species, originally hail from the rainforests of South America. Hawaii’s Puna region on the Big Island, known for its wet climate, is the primary location for commercial cultivation.
Today, Anthurium stands as the paramount cut flower in Hawaii’s floriculture sector, with the Obake Anthurium hybrid recognized for its impressively large flowers. In essence, while Anthurium has its roots in South America, its cultivation and hybridization in Hawaii have made it an indispensable part of the island’s floriculture.
Personally, this is one of my favorites. I have an anthurium in my office that has done well for many years!
11. Hawaiian Gardenia (Nau or Nanu)
The Hawaiian Gardenia, also known as Nau or Nanu, is an endemic species native only to Hawaii, highlighting its unique presence globally. Growing up to 16 feet, this small tree boasts glossy, dark green, ovate-shaped leaves.
It is mainly celebrated for its intensely fragrant, solitary white flowers that fuse at the base to form a tube approximately 0.59-0.79 inches long with six lobes. Historically found across all the main Hawaiian islands, the Hawaiian Gardenia now thrives only in tropical dry forests on Maui, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu, and Kauaʻi, at elevations between 1,150 and 1,710 feet.
Sadly, it’s nearing extinction in its native regions and is officially listed as endangered. Beyond its environmental significance, the Hawaiian Gardenia holds cultural reverence in Hawaiian traditions and is favored for its ornamental appeal in local gardens and landscapes.
The Hawaiian Gardenia adds to this unique flora and is a must-see for while exploring the enchanting world of Hawaiian tropical flowers.
12. Hawaiian Lily (Uki Uki)
The Hawaiian Lily, locally known as Uki Uki, is a perennial herb native to all Hawaiian Islands, excluding Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe. This plant flaunts slender, green, sword-shaped leaves and blooms small blue-purple flowers in clusters on tall stalks. Additionally, it bears edible blueberries, once a food source for Native Hawaiians.
Thriving in diverse habitats, from mesic to wet forests, the Hawaiian Lily plays a pivotal role in landscaping and ecological restoration projects. In Hawaiian culture, the plant is revered as sacred, and its leaves have historically been woven into baskets, mats, and other items.
While not classified as endangered, the Hawaiian Lily faces threats from habitat loss and invasive species, underscoring its ecological importance in Hawaii.
You can find the Hawaiian Lily in coastal areas of Hawaii, and it blooms throughout the year. So if you’re visiting Hawaii, make sure to keep an eye out for this enchanting flower!
13. Hawaiian Poppy (Pua Kala)
The Hawaiian Poppy, commonly called Pua Kala, boasts other local names such as kala, naule, and pōkalakala. Scientifically named Argemone glauca, this unique plant is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, making it exclusive to the region.
It’s a member of the Papaveraceae family, often recognized as the poppy family. Pua Kala comes in two varieties: A. glauca decipiens and A. glauca. As a perennial plant, it captivates with its prickly leaves and vibrant yellow flowers. These characteristics allow it to stand out in various habitats across Hawaii, ranging from sea level to elevated terrains.
Holding deep-rooted cultural importance in Hawaiian traditions, Pua Kala stands as a symbol of the region’s native flora. Despite not being officially listed as endangered, concerns about its preservation arise due to potential threats like invasive species and habitat loss.
Furthermore, while Pua Kala remains unique to Hawaii, it shares close ties with the Mexican poppy (Argemone mexicana) in terms of species relation. This connection reiterates the vast and interconnected nature of the world’s flora.
14. Hawaiian Red Cranesbill
The Hawaiian Red Cranesbill, scientifically known as Geranium arboreum, is a distinct geranium species found exclusively on the island of Maui. This endemic shrub reaches up to 13 feet in height and is adorned with green, toothed leaves spanning up to 1.5 inches long.
The plant’s striking red or magenta flowers have a unique configuration, with erect upper petals and lower petals curving under. This structure hints at bird-pollination, a rarity among geranium species.
Listed as endangered in 1992, today, fewer than 500 individual Hawaiian Red Cranesbills remain. These plants primarily grow within the gulches on the slopes of Haleakalā volcano. Regrettably, its survival is jeopardized by habitat degradation, notably due to grazing cattle, invasive plant species, and feral pigs.
Locally known as Hinahina, this geranium holds a revered position in Hawaiian culture, marking its dual cultural and ecological importance in Hawaii’s diverse ecosystem.
The Hawaiian Red Cranesbill is an important part of the ecosystem in Hawaii because it provides food and shelter for local bird species. It represents the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Hawaiian islands.
Photo by Forest & Kim Starr
15. Silver Geranium (Hinahina)
The Silver Geranium, known locally as Hinahina, is a distinctive plant endemic to Hawaii, meaning it exists nowhere else on Earth. This low-growing shrub, which reaches heights of up to 3 feet, is easily recognizable by its silvery-gray leaves covered in fine hairs and its small white flowers with a yellow center.
Found across diverse habitats like dry forests, shrublands, and alpine regions, Hinahina is not only valued for its use in landscaping and restoration projects but is also revered in Hawaiian culture as a sacred plant. Historically, its leaves served medicinal purposes, brewed into tea for stomach issues or used as poultices for skin irritations.
Although not classified as endangered, Silver Geranium’s natural habitats face threats from invasive species and potential habitat loss.
So if you have the chance to see this rare and exquisite flower during your trip to Hawaii, make sure not to miss it!
Photo by Wildlife of Hawaii
Symbolism and Meanings of Hawaiian Tropical Flowers
Hawaiian flowers hold deep symbolism and meaning in Hawaiian culture. For example, the hibiscus, Hawaii’s state flower, represents joy and beauty. It’s a vibrant and colorful flower that reflects the spirit of the islands.
Plumeria trees symbolize hope and fresh starts, making them a popular choice for leis during celebrations or graduations.
The Ohia Lehua flower holds mythological significance as it is associated with Pele, the volcano goddess in Hawaiian legends. The legend says that if you pick this flower from the tree, it will rain shortly after since it represents Pele’s tears.
Naupaka flowers are linked to a Hawaiian legend about the forbidden love between a princess and a commoner; they have two different shapes representing their separation.
Heliconias are known as “lobster claws” because of their bright red blooms resembling lobster claws. They symbolize pride and strength in Hawaiian culture. Hinahina flowers are often used in leis because of their unique succulent-like green leaves.
Each Hawaiian flower has its own unique symbolism and meaning deeply rooted in Hawaiian tradition and folklore – reflecting the rich history and cultural importance of these beautiful tropical blooms.
Growing Your Own Gorgeous Hawaii Flowers
You can grow Hawaiian flowers outside of Hawaii and bring a touch of paradise to your own backyard. Here are some tips for successfully growing these beautiful flowers:
- Choose the right location: Hawaiian flowers thrive in sunny spaces with well-drained soil. Make sure to provide enough space for the plants to grow.
- Provide proper care: Regular watering is important, especially during dry periods. Mulching can help retain moisture in the soil. Fertilize the plants with a balanced fertilizer to promote healthy growth.
- Consider climate and conditions: Some Hawaiian flowers are more suited to certain climates. Research the specific needs of the flowers you want to grow and ensure that your local climate can support them.
- Create a microclimate: If you live in an area with colder winters, consider creating a microclimate for your Hawaiian flowers. This can be done by planting them near south-facing walls or using protective covers during cold spells.
- Protect from pests: Keep an eye out for common pests like slugs and snails, which can damage the leaves and flowers. Use organic pest control methods or companion planting techniques to deter pests.
- Embrace diversity: There are many different types of Hawaiian flowers, each with its own unique beauty. Consider growing a variety of species to create a diverse and vibrant garden.
More Interesting Facts about Hawaiian Tropical Flowers
Hawaiian tropical flowers, with their vibrant colors and unique scents, predominantly originate from Hawaii’s warm and biodiverse islands. Many of these flowers are endemic to the region, meaning they’re unique to Hawaii and can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
An iconic representation of these flowers is the Hawaiian lei. Made from various tropical flowers, leis are deeply embedded in Hawaiian culture. They’re often presented as symbols of welcome, love, or congratulations. Each flower woven into a lei carries its own distinct meaning.
For instance, while plumeria epitomizes beauty and grace, the hibiscus stands as a beacon of love and friendship.
However, not all Hawaiian tropical flowers have a rosy story. Some, like the Hibiscus brackenridgei (also known as the ma’o hau hele or yellow Hibiscus), are endangered due to factors like habitat loss and invasive species.
Thankfully, dedicated efforts are in place to preserve these floral wonders for future generations. For gardening enthusiasts wondering about the feasibility of growing these flowers outside Hawaii, it’s indeed possible, albeit with a bit of effort.
Certain flowers, like the plumeria, can flourish both indoors and outdoors, depending on the climate, while anthuriums make excellent potted plants.
The Naupaka tells a tale of love, representing an ancient legend about two separated lovers who, upon death, turned into half-flowers growing near each other on coastal shores. When you incorporate these flowers into your garden, you’re adding beauty and supporting conservation efforts for these unique species.
FAQs About Hawaiian Tropical Flowers
1. What are some examples of beautiful Hawaiian tropical flowers?
Some examples of beautiful Hawaiian tropical flowers include hibiscus, plumeria, orchids, and bird-of-paradise.
2. Can I grow these Hawaiian tropical flowers in my garden?
Yes, many Hawaiian tropical flowers can be grown in gardens as long as they are provided with the right climate and care.
3. Where can I see these beautiful Hawaiian tropical flowers?
You can see these beautiful Hawaiian tropical flowers at botanical gardens, flower farms, or even during festivals and events dedicated to showcasing them.
4. Are there any special meanings or symbolism associated with these Hawaiian tropical flowers?
Yes, many of these Hawaiian tropical flowers have cultural significance and symbolism in Hawaii. For example, the hibiscus is often associated with beauty and love while the plumeria represents positivity and new beginnings.
5. What are the most common Hawaiian tropical flowers?
The most common Hawaiian tropical flowers include plumeria, hibiscus, bird of paradise, heliconia, and the Hawaiian hibiscus.
6. What is the significance of flowers in Hawaiian culture?
Hawaiian tropical flowers are an integral part of the Hawaiian way of life and culture. They are often used in flower arrangements, lei making, and symbolize the beauty and spirit of the islands.
7. Are there any endangered species among Hawaiian flowers?
Yes, some Hawaiian tropical flowers, particularly those endemic to the Hawaiian islands, are considered endangered species due to habitat loss and invasive species.
8. Can I find these tropical flowers outside of Hawaii?
While some tropical flowers can be found in other tropical regions, certain flowers, like the plumeria and ohia lehua, are primarily associated with Hawaii.
9. What are the characteristics of tropical flowers?
Hawaiian tropical flowers are known for their vibrant colors, unique shapes, and fragrant aromas. They thrive in the tropical climate and volcanic soil of Hawaii.
10. Are there any special events or festivals dedicated to Hawaiian flowers?
Yes, Hawaii hosts several flower festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate the beauty and significance of these tropical flowers, such as the Merrie Monarch Festival and the Aloha Festivals Floral Parade.
11. Do flowers have any historical or cultural importance in Hawaii?
Yes, Hawaiian tropical flowers like the hibiscus and plumeria have historical significance and are closely tied to the culture of the Hawaiian islands. They have been used in ceremonies, rituals, and even played a role in the history of Princess Kaiulani.
Hawaiian Tropical Flowers Wrap Up
Hawaii is home to a stunning array of tropical flowers that you simply have to see. From the vibrant Plumeria to the exotic Bird of Paradise, these flowers will take your breath away.
Whether you’re visiting Hawaii or trying to grow these beauties at home, exploring the world of Hawaiian tropical flowers is an enchanting experience that shouldn’t be missed. So get ready to immerse yourself in the colorful and fragrant world of Hawaiian flora!
Learn more about Hawaii’s beautiful culture.
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Bryan Murphy is the owner of Hawaii’s Best Travel and is a recognized authority on responsible travel to Hawaii. Combining years of on-ground experience with insights from the top-rated podcast, Hawaii’s Best, he connects with a broad online community, offering a richer, more responsible way to experience Hawaii.