How to Identify Hawaiian Tropical Flowers

How to Identify Hawaiian Tropical Flowers
Of all the natural wonders to be experienced in Hawaii, tropical flowers have come to define the beauty and culture of the 50th state. Whether hiking the remote areas of Kiluaea Volcano or exploring the shores of the Kohala Coast, nature lovers will encounter distinctive blooms in every region, from the wistful lehua blossoms that grace ohia trees on the Big Island, to wild hibiscus blooming in upcountry areas of Maui, or the prolific plumeria trees bursting with yellow, white, or pink flowers along the coast. As you head out on your tropical "flower safari," take time to smell the roses, not to mention the pikake, torch ginger, heliconia and more.


Difficulty: Easy

How to Identify Hawaiian Tropical Flowers

Things You’ll Need:
  • Hawaiian plant identification book Camera (optional)
  • Hawaiian plant identification book
  • Camera (optional)
Step 1
Look for flowering trees. Common flowering trees in Hawaii include the plumeria, which showcases five-petaled blooms in white, pink and yellow. The vibrant royal poinciana tree bursts with orange/red flowers during the spring and summer months. Decorated with dark bean pods, shower trees produce gold and/or pink fluffy blooms that persist for several months.
Step 2
Smell the blossoms. Learn to recognize the scents of favorite Hawaiian flowers. One of the most fragrant flowers in the Aloha State is the pua kenikeni, which boasts an intense scent akin to the tuberose. The trumpet-shaped pakalana features a slight lemon scent. The plumeria features a mild, but distinctive scent similar to the frangipani.
Step 3
Look for colors distinctive to specific varieties. A blossoming ground-cover, the ilima features paper-thin, golden yellow flowers. Pale lavender in color, the crown flower showcases a solid center resembling a royal crown. The ohia tree generally produces red and yellow lehua blooms similar to the bottle brush. The pua kenikeni blooms white and then turns from yellow to orange. Hawaii's state flower, the hibiscus produces yellow, pink and red blooms.
Step 4
Distinguish between flowers on hanging vines and those on trees themselves. The flowers of the maunaloa vine feature white and lavender blooms much like the pea blossom. Boasting a deep, emerald-green color, the blooms of the jade vines resemble multiple bird beaks clustered like a bunch of bananas. The jade vine can also produce red blooms.
Step 5
Learn about the symbolic flowers designated to each island. Used during May Day and other statewide celebrations in Hawaii, the yellow ilima flower, which represents the Island of Oahu, requires hundreds of blossoms to make a single lei. The pink lokelani rose can be seen in equestrian parades adorning horses and riders that represent the Island of Maui. A low-growing beach vine, the orange kauna'oa represents the Island of Lanai.

Tips & Warnings

Taking pictures of the blossoms lasts longer than picking them, and you can use the photos later to compare with your Hawaiian plant identification book.
Avoid touching oleander blossoms, as they are toxic.

Article Written By Karen Sprinkles

Karen Sprinkles has been a freelance writer since 1988. She's currently the managing editor of a luxury home magazine and has written for regional newspapers and magazines. Sprinkles received the Award of Excellence from the Hawaii Book Publishers Association for "The Hawaii Home Book," which reached No. 1 on the Hawaii bestsellers list. She earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California.

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