Each of Hawaii’s official flowers is as unique as the island it represents. Typically, the color of the flower is linked to the official color of each island as well.
From Oahu’s native yellow ilima to Molokai’s white kukui blossoms, these beautiful native Hawaiian flowers create a colorful, fragrant symbol of the state of Hawaii and of each of Hawaii’s main islands.
Hawaii State Flower: Yellow Hibiscus
Hawaii’s official state flower is the yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei), also known in the Hawaiian language as the pua aloalo. All colors and varieties of the hibiscus became the official Territorial flower in the early 1920s.
It wasn't until 1988, nearly 30 years after Hawaii was named the 50th state in 1959, that the yellow hibiscus native to the Hawaiian Islands was officially adopted by Hawaii’s legislature.
The yellow hibiscus is among the seven hibiscus species native to the Hawaiian Islands. Other colors were imported to the islands, and used by growers to develop unique hybrids to produce the gorgeous size and color varieties found today.
Photo Credit: Yellow Ilima by Forest & Kim Starr via Wikimedia
The official flower for the island of Oahu is the yellow ilima (Sida fallax), which is among the most popular flowers used in lei making. It is also considered a symbol of love. Resembling a small hibiscus, the flower was used by early Hawaiians as a cure for general illnesses.
Maui: Pink Lokelani
Photo Credit: Pink Lokelani by Forest & Kim Starr via Wikimedia
The official flower for the island of Maui is the pink lokelani, also known as the pink cottage rose. Since it was brought to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1800s, the Rosa damascene has been coveted by gardeners for its fragrance and beauty. It is the only non-native plant that is recognized among Hawaii’s official flowers.
Photo Credit: Hinahina by Forest & Kim Starr via Wikimedia
Offshore of Maui, the uninhabited island of Kahoolawe also has its own official flower. The hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum) is a silver-gray plant with flowers that have a light to strong fragrance. It has actually been adopted as a beautiful ground cover for coastal landscapes, especially since it will generally suppress weed growth once established.
Hawaii Island: Red Lehua Ohia
Photo Credit: Red Lehua Ohia by Forest & Kim Starr via Wikimedia
The official flower for the Big Island of Hawaii is the red lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), which is the blossom of the native ohia tree. While lehua blossoms can also be white, orange and yellow, red is most appropriate for the island since it is home to the volcano/fire goddess Madame Pele. In fact, legend holds that the flower that grows in tropical forests is actually sacred to Madame Pele.
Molokai: White Kukui Blossom
Photo Credit: White Kukui Blossom by Forest & Kim Starr via Wikimedia
Molokai’s official flower is the white kukui blossom (Aleurites moluccana), tiny white flowers that have become extremely popular among island lei makers. While the flower is white, Molokai’s official color is green, likely because the island is rural and has rolling green fields.
Photo Credit: Kaunaoa by Forest & Kim Starr via Wikimedia
The island of Lanai’s official flower is the Kaunaoa (Cuscuta sandwichiana), an air plant that grows on the ground in shining orange along the island’s beaches. While it may be used in a native Hawaiian garden or grown for lei, it should never be planted near valuable plants since it is a parasite plant!
Photo Credit: Mokihana by Forest & Kim Starr via Staticflickr
The official island flower of Kauai actually isn’t a flower at all! The mokihana (Pelea anisata) is a berry that is grown only on the slopes of Mount Waialelae, which is known as one of the wettest spots on Earth. In lei making, these hardy berries that have the scent of anise are strung like beads and woven with strands of maile.
Niihau: White Pupu Shell
Just west of Kauai, the tiny island of Niihau is referred to as the “Forbidden Island”, since only native Hawaiians are allowed to visit. It also follows Kauai with an official “flower” that isn’t a flower at all. It is actually the white pupu shell that is found along the shoreline of this rocky island. As tiny as the head of a pin and found only on the island’s beaches, the treasured shells are used in making exquisite Niihau Shell Lei.
Hawaii’s Floral Parades
Photo Credit: Niihau Riders by Daniel Ramirez via Wikimedia
A great way to observe these official Hawaiian Island symbols is during one of Hawaii’s floral parades. Next on the calendar will be the 2019 King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade that rolls out in Honolulu and Waikiki on Saturday, June 8, 2019.
During this celebration, each island color is portrayed by dazzling flowers draped over horses ridden by paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) and beautiful pa`u (female) riders wearing long, colorful skirts.