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Born of salt and ash, the Hawaiian Islands rose from the ocean as the Pacific Plate moved over a volcanic hot spot on the ocean floor. And, with each errupting volcano, they continue to evolve and take shape, even today.

The early Hawaiian landscape was barren, consisting mostly of volcanic rock, ash, and sand. Eventually, though, with the help of winds; birds; travelers who brought a variety of fauna for medicinal, spiritual, and cultural practices; and time... the lush landscape birthed a truly original and delicate ecosystem. Of the flowers and plants thriving on the islands today, most are found nowhere else in the world. 

When you visit Maui, and the surrounding islands, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the vibrant flowers and plants, both native and foreign, that call this part of the world home. 

cluster of Plumeria flowers


A classic of the Hawaiian leis, in the past, only royalty was allowed to wear the plumeria due to its fragrant, sweet smell. In Hawaiian culture, the plumeria represents birth, love, and new beginnings. When worn in the hair behind the left ear, it can signify a woman is in a romantic relationship. If worn behind the right ear, it’s a nod that she’s single. Though not native to Hawaii, when the Germans brought the plant here, they realized it thrived in a tropical climate, and is often a symbol of immortality because of its ability to thrive even when uprooted. 

close up of yellow hibiscus flower


Hawaii's state flower, the hibiscus, is bright and brilliantly colored in shades of yellow, orange, pink and red. Found throughout the islands, it's traditionally used to adorn hair or strung for leis. In Hawaiian culture, it represents beauty, and, like the plumeria, is often used to convey a woman's marital status where the left ear signifies she's maried, and the right means she's looking for a partner. The hibiscus flower only lasts one day, but since they're in bloom nearly every day, you're likely to see plenty of these stunning flowers on your visit to Maui and the surrounding islands. Not bad for a bloom that was once on the verge of extinction.

Bird of Paradise flower

Bird of Paradise

The bird of paradise originated in South Africa but has thrived in the Hawaiian climate, and grows amidst the leaves of the hibiscus bushes from March to October.

Aptly named, this striking flower resembles a brilliant tropical bird with the bright blue and orange flowers displaying as feathers. In Hawaiian, the name translates to "little globe," and represents magnificence. It's also a symbol of joy and freedom. Birds of paradise can gro up to 30 feet, and are a close relative of the banana plant! 

Red Tower Ginger Flower

Red Tower Ginger

A recent social media sensation, red tower ginger gained popularity after a viral video highlighted the use of the flower's juice as shampoo and conditioner, something native Hawaiians have known for years. Referred to as "shampoo ginger" the tall, red cone-shaped blooms are easy to spot and have come to represent themes of tolerance, wealth and diversity. 

Orange fringed orchid close up


Most often spotted in leis of pinkish-purple and white blooms, Hawaiian orchids are delicate yet resilient. There are only three species indigenous to the islands: the jewel orchid, the twayblade orchid, and perhaps the most rare, the fringed orchid, which lives deep in the rain forests of the east, or in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park requiring people to really explore these areas if they want to catch a glimpse. Orchids have come to represent refinement, beauty and luxury, and while the native species are some of the least colorful, there are three naturalized varieties that have acclimatised so well that they now grow in the wild! These brighter-bloom orchids are the bamboo orchid, the Philippine ground orchid, and the Chinese groud orchid which can grow to four feet tall and has multicolored flowers of pink, white and greenish brown. If hiking isn't on your vacation agenda, you can visit the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens on the Big Island and tour their nursery. 

Ohe'Ohe blooms


Once critically endangered due to the sugar cane industry stripping its natural habitat, the ohe'ohe was rediscovered in the 1960s and is now most often found in gullies or along high ridges between 820 - 2,790 feet. A member of the ginseng family, the small tree can grow up to 25 feet tall and is mostly held to the island of Kauai. The long strands of delicate yellow-white petals with bright pink centers dangle from the limbs of the tree creating cascading wisps of up to 250 blooms that blow in the cliffside winds resembling long garlands until the petals drop in late summer.  

pikake flower


The Hawaiian term for jasmine is pikake, a name bestowed by Princess Kaiulani of Hawaii due to her admiration for her favorite bird, the peacock. The pikake flower carries a delicate and uplifting fragrance, and is frequently worn by brides, hula dancers, and esteemed visitors.

bright red ohia lehua flower

Ohia Lehua 

Ohia Lehua flowers, also known as Metrosideros polymorpha, are fascinating blooms closely tied to the legendary figure of Pele, the Polynesian goddess of volcanoes. These flowers are the first to bloom on lava flows after volcanic eruptions. According to the legend, Pele's unrequited love for Ohia, who loved Lehua, led to Pele transforming Ohia into a tree and Lehua into its blossoms. Hawaiians believe that plucking a Lehua flower from the Ohia tree brings rainfall, symbolizing the tears of the separated couple.

Naupaka flower


Naupaka flowers are a common sight throughout the Hawaiian islands, thought they're often found either near the beach or in the mountains. Legend has it that the flowers were named for a Hawaiian princess who experienced a tragic love story where she fell in love with a commoner only to realize they could never be together. As a symbol of her heartbreak, she tore the flower in half, giving half to her love before disappearing into the mountains. It is believed this is why the flowers now only exist in two areas on the islands, and why they resemble a flower that's been ripped down the middle. 

red Koki'o bloom


The last Koki'o to exist in the wild died in the early 1990s, and now, only 23 plants remain, existing solely in cultivated environments. They're spread across 5 different locations on the islands of Maui, Moloka‘i, Hawaii, and O‘ahu. Out of these, 7 are being grown in controlled environments on Maui and O‘ahu. One is kept at a private home on the island of Hawaii. The rest of the plants, a total of 15, are located in small outplanting sites on Moloka‘i Ranch lands, specifically at Puu Nana. The fragility of Hawaii's ecosystem cannot be overstated. This is why visitors are asked to leave all plants, rocks, shells, and other pieces of the native landscape as they found it. You never know when the beautiful, rare flower you see on the mountainside could be the last of its kind. When you visit Maui, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the native flora, but be respectful of what it takes to flourish here. 

Yellow Memane blooms


The bright blooms of memane can be found all over Hawaii growing in both shurb and tree varieties. The perennial plant's pea-shaped flowers form in bunches at the ends of branches, sometimes resembling butterflies, and provide bright pops of color against the green background of Hawaii's lush landscape. Memane prefers a drier climate so you'll rarely see it in the rain forests, but with trees capable of reaching 50 feet tall, the eye-catching buds are definitely worth seeking out on your Maui vacation.