Flowers and Plants of Hawaii: Meanings and Endemic Species

The archipelago of the Hawaiian Islands is a highly sought-after tourist destination due to its heavenly beaches, fascinating culture and magnificent landscapes. But there is also something else that makes this place extraordinarily special: the flowers and plants that inhabit it. A major staple in the island’s history, local folklore, traditional art, and even folk medicine, a great many plant species now live only in Hawaii.
This article provides a wonderful journey through the different types of plants and flowers of the Hawaiian Islands as it explores some of their interesting and exceptionally beautiful characteristics. Initially recognized as the Land of Hibiscus, Hawaii has always had a visceral connection to its most common floral varieties.

Introduction to Hawaiian flora

The islands of Hawaii are a unique botanical paradise in the world. With a huge variety of plant species, as well as some exotic animals, they capture the imagination of botanists, tourists and local residents alike. Hawaiian flora is more than just scenic beauty; the different types of flora form the ecosystemic basis for the wild life of the archipelago.
Understanding the diversity of Hawaiian flora can help you better understand the ecosystem and care for it. The flora of Hawaii is very diverse. It grows in a variety of ecosystems, including rainforests, rocky deserts, alpine grasslands, and salt marshes. There are more than 17,000 plant species growing on the islands of Hawaii.

Most species of flowers and plants are native to Hawaii; many were introduced by Europeans and Polynesians and colonized the islands to adapt to local conditions. Hawaiian rainforests are among the oldest in the world. Those on land can be very different from those near the sea or on higher ground.
The rainforests of the east coast of Hawaii are populated by very tall trees with branches often loaded with tropical epiphytes such as lianas, ficuses and orchids. Many species of birds, insects, and mammals live in Hawaiian rainforests, including some endemic species such as the ula-ai-hawane bird (Myadestes palmer) and the small mammal endemically called the Hawaiian hoary bat (photo below).

Hawaiian hoary bat
Foto di Forest and Kim Starr da Flickr

Within the rainforests it is also possible to find some invasive species such as the Hawaiian fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and the coast lily (Lysimachia clethroides). Rainforests are very important to the conservation of Hawaiian biodiversity, especially for the many endangered species. Mount Kaala, on the island of Oahu, is considered the highest point in Hawaii and is also an important habitat for endemic species of Hawaii, such as the Hawaiian snow moose (Alces alces), the Hawaiian pipilo (Pseudospiza bellii) and the Hawaiian black stork (Melamprosops phaeosoma).
The Hawaiian Alpine Forest also contributes to the country’s biodiversity with its many endemic species, including the koa moth butterfly (Euryloxiphanes hawaiiensis), the Hawaiian sparrow (Chloridops regiskongii), and the Hawaiian primrose (Primula hawaiiensis). Additionally, the Alpine Forest is home to some endangered species such as Hawaiian snow moose, Hawaiian pipilo, and black snow crow (Corvus corax gracilis).

Not to be forgotten are the spectacular white sand beaches and salt marshes found in the Hawaiian Islands. Coastal Hawaiian vegetation includes a diverse range of aquatic plants such as mangroves, seagrasses, and seagrasses. Some endemic aquatic species such as the Hawaiian redfish (Scorpaena sculpinii) have found refuge in the salt marshes of Hawaii. Furthermore, the coastal vegetation offers abundant food resources such as shellfish and crustaceans which nourish numerous animal species. Finally, many ornamental plants have been introduced by man to Hawaii for ornamental or agricultural use.

These plants rapidly colonize unoccupied territories and often have a negative impact on the indigenous ecosystem. A notable example is the introduction of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) into the archipelago, which is radically changing the coastal ecosystem with its rapid spread throughout the islands. Other examples are pink hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and variegated bauhinia (Bauhinia variegata). While these plants grace urban landscapes with their colorful tropical flowers, they must be managed responsibly so that they do not become too invasive in other natural areas of the archipelago.

In conclusion, the Hawaiian flora constitutes a precious heritage for the country. The biodiversity afforded by the rich indigenous flora provides important ecological services to the people who live in Hawaii and to those who travel from far and wide to visit its unique natural landscapes. Understanding the ecosystem of Hawaii starting from its botanical components can have a positive impact on the conservation of the naturally pristine environments of the archipelago.

The most common flowers and plants of Hawaii

The tropical climate and vibrant local culture provide an unforgettable experience for all who visit the archipelago. One of the things that makes this place even more fascinating is the rich variety of flowers that can be found in the islands. There are over 200 species of flowers endemic to Hawaii, but some stand taller than others. Here is a list of the most common Hawaiian flowers:

1. Hibiscus

This vibrant and colorful flower is the official symbol of Hawaii. It is believed to symbolize purity and innocence, and is one of the archipelago’s most popular flowers. Hibiscuses exist in a variety of colors, including red, orange, yellow, white, and pink.

2. Plumeria

Tropical flower is known for its sweet scents and five petal shape. They are usually found in tree or shrub form, and grow in various shades of pink, yellow, orange and white. Although native to central Mexico, this flower is now extremely widespread throughout the archipelago.

3. Orchid

Known as the queen of flowers, the orchid is another signature plant of Hawaii. There are several types of orchids in the archipelago, but the most common is the white one with curled petals called “Vanda”. Depending on the type, orchids can produce sweet or delicate scents and exude a romantic atmosphere.

4. Gardenia

This exotic-looking plant has a sweet, inviting scent to anyone who passes by it. Gardenia has a cup-shaped flower with white or yellow petals depending on the type and also produces glossy, fleshy leaves that add beauty to its presence.

5. Lantana

Known flower of the Mediterranean maquis, lantana is a small flower full of bright colors such as red, orange, yellow and purple. This dazzling flower tends to grow in tall grass and can withstand very high temperatures. When insects visit, they release a particularly strong scent that attracts birds and beneficial insects such as pollinators.

6. Bougainville

Native to South America, bougainvillea has become a staple in Hawaii as an ornamental flower for private balconies as well as main squares and public areas. Its colorful petals and glossy leaves create a very visual contrast to its surroundings, and it also gives off a sweet, heady scent that attracts beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies.

8. Passiflora

Also known as passion flower, passion flower has large star-shaped purplish-white blooms with transparent petals that extend around the center of the plant producing a dazzling effect when caught in the morning or afternoon sun. The subtle aroma emanating from this flower is slightly sweet yet unobtrusive and is enjoyed by anyone who visits Hawaii during the spring or summer to enjoy its colorful blooms in all their magnificence.

 strelitzia, fiori e piante delle hawaii, flowers and plants of the Hawaii
Foto di Rivanro da Pixabay


Also known as the ‘Bird of Paradise’, this flower earned its name because it resembles a heavenly bird of paradise in flight with its grandiose transparent blue wings that sweep around the center of the flower to form a large colorful circle complemented by radiant orange petals forming its luminous tail. Strelitzia has become very popular in Hawaii with both local residents and tourists from all over the world due to its breathtaking beauty and is often used as an ornamental or even inserted in the decoration of outdoor weddings organized in the tropical islands of the archipelago .


Important flowers and plants of Hawaii and the cultural significance of each flower

Some flowers and plants also have deep cultural significance to Native Hawaiians. Here we will try to explore some of the most important d , with particular attention to their historical and cultural meanings.

ibisco, fiori e piante delle Hawaii, Hibiscus, Flower and plants of the Hawaii
Foto di Annika Lepp da Pixabay
  1. Hibiscus: One of Hawaii’s most popular flowers is the hibiscus. This flower is highly regarded for its beauty and has become a symbol of Hawaii. The hibiscus also has a very important meaning for native Hawaiians: it represents love, peace and happiness. A Hawaiian legend states that it keeps away evil forces and that it brings good to those who carry it.
  2. Ginger is a type of herbaceous plant that produces green stems with brightly colored flowers such as red, orange, yellow, and pink. It is particularly appreciated for its fresh scent. Native Hawaiians believe ginger has purifying powers, so it is often used in the traditional blessing ceremony in Hawaii.
  3. Crinum Asiaticum is a tropical flower that grows in most areas of Hawaii. It has dark green leaves and fragrant white flowers. This flower has gained much importance in Hawaiian culture and is often seen as a symbol of discretion and fidelity. Legend has it that anyone carrying a Crinum Asiaticum with them would never have been involved in negative situations.
  4. Protea is a flower in the protacea family native to southern Africa, but also grows in Hawaii. Its appearance varies according to the variety, but the outer petals are always cupped with shades ranging from red, pink and bright yellow. Native Hawaiians regard the protea as a symbol of strength, beauty, and endurance, while ancient Hawaiians believed it brought good to the wearer.
  5. The Tiare is a flower with deep cultural roots in Hawaii. It is a tropical flower with white outer petals, while the inner ones are variable between red and bright yellow. The Tiare has become known as a symbol of hospitality in the Hawaiian Islands; it is used as a welcome to Hawaiian culture whenever meeting someone new or embarking on a new business or journey.
  6. Kalanchoe is a flower native to southern Africa that also grows in different areas of Hawaii. It is a small shrub with dark green leaves and white or pale pink blooms. Native Hawaiians consider the Kalanchoe to be a good luck charm; if carried as an amulet it would protect against accidents and disease. It is also used to remove obstacles in daily life.





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