Hawaiian Flower Buying Guide
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This Hawaiian flower guide will give you brief descriptions and pictures of our most popular Hawaiian flowers. Please use this guide to choose your perfect Hawaiian flower arrangement. This will help you identify flowers you have seen in Hawaii or flowers you may have received as gifts. When you send Hawaiian flowers it is helpful to know the many beautiful tropical flowers that are available. We ship to you directly from farms on the Big Island. We do not send the cheaper imported flowers from South America.
There are many beautiful tropical flowers to be found in Hawaii. Our guide covers the most popular selections used in flower arranging. We’ve also added some tips on tropical flower care. The flowers we use for lei making and for our assortments are selected for their beauty as well as for how long they last. We’ve also selected stems that fare well during shipping though your flowers arrive in only one or two days. We haven’t included many remarkable flowers that do not work well in flower arrangements. For information on other types of Hawaiian favorites visit here.
You may notice in our Hawaiian flower guide that many favorites actually come from other places. Tropical flowers are found in Africa, Asia and South America. Many do well in the climate of the islands. Some prefer the warmer coastal areas while others grow better with a bit of mountain elevation. Our flowers are all locally grown. Most come from farms on the Big Island around Hilo. Protea primarily come from upcountry Maui. We work with farms throughout the islands to bring you the freshest possible selections. So you can buy Hawaiian flowers with confidence.
We hope you find our Hawaiian flower guide both informative and inspirational. This will serve as a research tool for anyone wondering what flowers grow well in Hawaii. In some cases we share the scientific names for tropical flowers along with the common or Hawaiian names. We have also included a guide to tropical foliage. Ornamental foliage is important to Hawaiian flower arranging as greenery balances the presentations. For help arranging Hawaiian flowers see our blog for easy DIY instructions.
Read on with our Hawaiian Flower Guide to learn more about all of our favorite Hawaiian flowers. Mahalo.
Hawaiian Flower Guide
Our Hawaiian Flower Guide would not be complete without a worldwide favorite, orchids. Orchids come in a huge variety of species, including hybrids both natural and man-made. Common colors are white, green, purple and pink though orchids are found in every color other than blue. Orchid cultivation in Asia goes back thousands of years. Orchids were introduced to Europe in the early 1800’s.
We’ve described a few of the more popular orchids below. Our Orchid of the Month Club features a great assortment of dendrobium orchids which grow well in Hawaii.
For more about orchids and their care we suggest the American Orchid Society website. They also have a Facebook group with helpful hints from growers of all levels.
Dendrobium orchids get their name from their habit of growing attached to trees, like the Hawaiian hono hono orchids. There are over one thousand different species of dendrobium. Most are native to parts of Asia.
Dendrobium are easy to care for. They bloom most in the summer months and flower production can slow in the winter. Even in tropical areas such as Hawaii this winter ‘resting’ can be observed. When they do grow, they grow quickly. New growth appears from the base of the plant and soon produces spikes on which the flowers bloom. Most are not fragrant.
Its beauty, ease of care and frequent blooming make it a popular choice for hobbyists. The flowers are used in Hawaiian lei making as they are durable once picked. The most popular graduation leis are made from dendrobium orchids. Colors for dendrobiums are varied but most are shades of purple and lavender with many white and a natural green. There is a variety with thin, extended petals called antelope orchids since the petals are said to resemble the horns of an antelope.
We have added several new styles of Hawaiian leis for 2017. Talented lei makers can create beautiful and complicated lei styles using these simple orchid blooms.
The phalaenopsis orchid derives its name from the moth-like shape of the bloom. They are mostly native to parts of Asia.
These orchids produce a stunning set of flowers from a long, curved spike. Phaelenopsis orchids are prized for home decor because the blooms can last up to several weeks with a little care. They will typically bloom once a year. Most are not fragrant. They are mass produced in Taiwan for US big box stores. In Hawaii phalaenopsis are still grown by smaller family nurseries for sale to hobbyists and decorators.
Cattleya orchids are named for William Cattley who was the first to make this native of Central and South America bloom in the United Kingdom.
The flowers are large and many resemble daffodils. Most are shades of purple though cattleya are found in almost every color. Cattleya are often called the ‘Queen of the Orchids’. They are popular for corsages due to their large size, beauty and fragrance.
Cattleya have been widely hybridized, that is combined with other orchid species to create new flowers. There are also smaller varieties call ‘Compact Cattleya’. The smaller size makes them easier to propagate in nurseries and greenhouses.
‘Paph’s’ are also know as Lady Slipper orchids due to the shape of the flower. They are primarily found in Southeast Asia and surrounding areas. A similar flower called Cypripedium grows on forest floors and is the state flower of Minnesota where it goes dormant during the harsh winter.
The medium sized spikes produce a fairly large, single, long-lasting bloom. They are very popular among hobbyists and many hybrids have been created. Smaller plants may only produce one bloom with more as the plant gets older.
Cymbidium orchids are also called ‘Boat Orchids’ as their name comes from the Latin word for ‘boat’. They are native to Southeast Asia and are now more widely grown, especially in China.
Like most orchids they are found in a large variety of colors. Most common are pinks and greens, with some orange. Cymbidium are often used in wedding bouquets. Some are fragrant. Cymbidium are seasonal. When they are out of season in Hawaii New Zealand is an excellent source for this lovely orchid.
There is a growers’ association dedicated to cymbidium culture with information on paphiopedilum as well.
Oncidium are native to Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. They have star-shaped petals and a prominent lip. Most are yellow, purple or red.
One of the most popular varieties is the Sharry Baby which is dark purple. It has mild fragrance similar to chocolate or vanilla.
They bloom along spikes or sprays and the blooms are long lasting. They are also popular as a cut flower for tropical flower arrangements.
Thousands of orchid hybrids exist. Growers and hobbyists continually create new orchid species and varieties. Many even occur in nature.
Brassolaeliocattleya is one seen often at orchid shows and shops. It is a mix of brassavola, cattleya and laelia. You will see this abbreviated on the tag simply as Blc.
Red and Pink Ginger
There are a variety of ginger flowers in Hawaii. They can be hard to recognize without a Hawaiian flower guide. The most common is the tall red or pink ginger Alpinia purpurata.
This ginger flower is used for both arrangements and landscaping. They can grow up to 10 or 15 feet tall. The red or pink ‘flower’ is not the actual flower of the plant. These are called bracts and a small, white flower will emerge from each bract at it matures.
To extend the life of a cut ginger flower submerge the entire stem under water for about ten minutes. If there is any dirt or bugs in the bracts you can actually use very hot water to bathe the stem which will help clean the bloom. Ginger are a bit difficult to clean. For this reason agriculture inspections in California can be very strict. So many growers do not ship this type of ginger to California.
Here is some more information on growing ginger if you live in a warm climate.
Another member of the ginger family is the large torch ginger. This is a tall and large red flower named for its resemblance to a burning torch. It is a heavy bloom and should only be used in larger flower arrangements.
This large flower should also be immersed in water for 10 minutes to extend it’s display life.
Also called Indian Head Ginger this is a tubular bloom that grows on a medium size shrub. Native to South America costus flourishes in Hawaii. The unusual blooming style opens lip like petals from the top of the flower.
Red tower ginger have a more open set of red bracts from which a small yellow flower emerges.
The other major species of ginger found in Hawaii are Calathea or rattlesnake ginger. These blooms resemble the tail of a rattlesnake. There are also varieties call beehive ginger due to their shape. Also from South America rattlesnake ginger are used in gardens and landscapes throughout Hawaii. You may even find them growing along a Hawaiian hiking trail.
Some gingers are very fragrant, though they are not suitable for flower arranging due to the short life cycle of the bloom, unless cut immediately before use.
Native to India these yellow or white blooms resemble butterflies when open. When in bloom they fill the surrounding area with a perfume like fragrance. They often grow along hiking trails in Hawaii.
Our Hawaiian Flower Guide contains many flowers not native to Hawaii. The name of the protea comes from the Greek god Proteas. This was a sea god who could change into many forms. The name was chosen because these flowers are found in many different forms as you can see. They are prized for their intricate beauty and unusual forms, often likened to something from pre-historic times.
Protea originated in Africa and are now grown in Hawaii, mostly on the higher areas of Maui including Kula and Makawao. They also grow well in Australia. Farms can be found in more that fifteen countries around the world.
Protea are a winter bloomer even in Hawaii so production can slow from May to as late as October.
As the name says this is the ‘king’ of the protea flowers and the largest. This striking bloom can be six inches or more across. They are pink to near red with dark green leaves, a thick woody stem and a velvet-like feel. The bush, also called a sugarbush can be up to three feet tall. The flower will remain beautiful after drying. They are pollenated by birds that feed on the nectar as the pollen is too deep for insects to reach.
King protea is the national flower of South Africa.
Grows well on Maui as do most protea.
Minks are a feathery, long compact flower. Colors include pinks and grey-black. They can be up to five inches long and about 3 inches across. Like many protea they grow on a large shrub.
Mink protea can be kept as a dried flower or turned upside down to craft a ‘Hula Girl’.
Exotic and lovely these flowers look just like their name. Pin like tips emerge from a ball of delicate bracts in a bright yellow or orange. Pincushion protea make an interesting addition to any Hawaiian flower arrangement.
Pincushion protea grow on a small, evergreen shrub. Many exotic birds enjoy feeding on the nectar of the pincushion protea.
A native of Australia, there are several types of banksia flower. Most are red or green with some shades of yellow or pink. They come in shapes from a compact bottlebrush to a taller cone shaped flower.
Banksia grow on both trees and shrubs. They bloom with a set of tiny spikes, each with a flower. This gives them their brush-like appearance.
They are named in honor of botanist Joseph Banks who travelled with Captain Cook in the late 1700’s.
Also called Leucadendron the Safari Sunset is a dark red flower that grows on a bush. Its shape resembles a rose bud and is actually a cone of bracts surrounding the true flower. The foliage goes from green at the base to more reddish closer to the bloom.
Heliconia flowers are a varied collection of more than 200 types of tropical flowers. Most are native to South America though they are grown in many tropical locations and rainforests. The name comes from the Greek mountain said to be home to the Muses.
Like many tropical flowers used in Hawaiian flower arranging the beauty and color is found in the bract of the plant from which tiny flowers emerge. The bracts collect water and provide a habitat for some tiny aquatic organisms. Only certain birds are able to access the nectar because of their specialized beaks.
Upright heliconia are the largest of the these flowers. They grow on tall, thick stems and open in a shape sometimes called the ‘Lobster Claw’. The most common color is deep red and they are also found in pink and yellow. They are a heavy flower and add to flower arrangements.
Tropic Fleur Heliconia
Tropic fleur heliconia are sometimes mistaken for bird of paradise because of their shape. They do not burst open so fully as bird of paradise. They are yellow in color and can be up to five or six feet tall on the stem.
Psitticorum or ryzo heliconia are smaller and more delicate in appearance than most other members of this family. They are also used in landscaping where the weather permits. Colors range from yellow to orange or pink.
One of the most beautiful and unusual of the tropical flowers! Pendant or hanging heliconia are marked by bracts that hang down from the supporting stem. They are prized for Hawaiian flower arrangements.
The most common color is bright red with yellow edges with parrot beak bracts. Some are pink with a peach-like fuzz.
These flowers are easy to care for. First, cut about an inch off the base of the stem. The stems are strong and can be a little tough. You can soak the entire flower under clean, lukewarm water for about ten minutes. This will extend the life of the blooms. They can be a heavy flower so check the balance of your vase while arranging.
There are more than 1000 different types of anthurium flowers. They are the most cultivated decorative flower in Hawaii. So our Hawaiian Flower Guide must include them. Anthurium vary in size as well a color. Many tropical flower growers have created their own unique anthuriums by crossing existing plants.
The remarkable part of the anthurium is not an actual flower but a bract from which the flowers emerge. This is a flat, wide and somewhat heart-shaped spathe. From the spathe emerges the spadix, a long, tubular extension covered by the tiny flowers.
They are grown outdoors in tropical areas or as an indoor plant. They are sensitive to low or high temperatures, preferring to be between 60 and 80 degrees. Cut stems can last up to a month with fresh water changes and moderate temperatures.
The name means ‘tall flower’ though the stems range from about a foot to just under one foot in length. They are native to tropical Mexico, Central and South America.
Standard anthurium colors are red to red orange, pink, pale yellow, light to bright green (midori), apricot and pale orange.
Anthurium are poisonous to humans and pets if ingested.
Get more detailed information here.
Obake are large, remarkable flowers with variegation of two or more colors. The Japanese word means ‘ghost’ or something that changes. This is because of the color change on the surface of the bract.
Colors include green with a red center also called ‘watermelon’ anthurium. Some are green with a light pink center or green to bright pink.
Tulip or novelty anthuriums are smaller and more narrow that standard anthurium. Their spathes tend to be more upright. Varieties include the coral colored Lady Jane, Purple Arc and white Peace Lily. Tulip types may not last so long as their larger relatives.
Purple arc an Lady Jane anthurium are used to make corsages.
Bird of Paradise
Bird of paradise is classic tropical bloom that is found widely throughout Hawaii. This is a must have for any Hawaiian Flower Guide. ‘Birds’ are used both for cut flower arranging and landscaping. It is named for its bird like appearance and is sometimes called the crane flower. This is a large flower on a thick stalk. Take care when handling as the open bracts can break.
Bird of paradise are another popular tropical flower native to South America that is now found throughout much of the world, particularly in the tropics. The common name comes from the appearance that the blooms look like beautiful birds among the tropical greenery. In addition to Hawaii bird of paradise can be grown in California and Florida.
These flowers thrive with ample rain followed by full sun. They open gradually and are usually orange or yellow with sometimes blue flowers. They are a tall flower with large leaves similar to the banana tree. The leaves are also sometimes used in flower arranging. The leaves are broad, long and deep green.
The scientific name for bird of paradise is Strelitzia which is derived from a European duchy.
Take care when handling and unpacking your bird of paradise. Careful with the top of the flowers. The ‘wings’ and crest of the bird can be broken off. If it is fully open the bracts can break off. The stems are thick so use a sharp knife to cut about an inch off the bottom of the stem. Then place it in a vase with water. These can be heavy flowers so test your vase before adding the birds. For longer life the entire flower and stem can be held underwater for about 10 minutes. Make sure to use a clean tub of lukewarm water.
If you are thinking of growing your own here is some helpful information.
Tropical foliage adds balance and natural color to any Hawaiian flower arrangement. We have added the most popular greenery to our Hawaiian Flower Guide. Foliage should fill in spaces between cut stems and complete the arrangement.
Many leaves can be used on their own for decorating or lei making.
Ti leaves are the quintessential Hawaiian leaf. Ti is used in everything from flower arranging, lei making and hula skirts to cooking. Ti leaves are deep green or purplish red, sometimes with variegation. They do bloom and product a small berry.
To make a lei from ti it is usually frozen or microwaved to facilitate removing the stem or ‘bone.’
Ti can also be used with banana leaves to line an imu, or in-ground cooking pit. Ti leaves are used for making traditional Hawaiian laulau. Laulau is tread made from wrapped pork and other items and steamed. Leaves are removed before eating.
Ti leaves can be kept in water like any flower stem. Trim a bit off the bottom every few days to extend the life.
Also called pandanus these long, narrow and variegated leaves grow on the hala tree. Smaller specimens are used for floral foliage.
The hala tree plays an important role in Hawaiian culture. It’s parts are used in association with life changes. The inner sections from the pineapple-like fruit is used in lei making and is edible.
Hala leaf can be kept in water. The top ends can be cut in a chevron shape to add interest.
This is a large, wide leaf with many uses. Another import to Hawaii, monstera are native to Mexico and Central America. They are available in many sizes with with mini or small being used most often in Hawaiian flower arrangements. The wider leaves can be used for place settings.
Monstera are also used in landscaping where the leaves can grow to three feet long. It produces a long, cone like fruit that is edible when ripe.
Keep the stem of the leaf in water.
Song of India
This is an ornamental plant native to islands of the Indian Ocean where it gets its name.
There are many varieties of this plant. The most beautiful is loved for its lovely variegation Song of India is used both in Hawaiian flower arranging and as a specimen plant in landscaping.
Keep the stem in water. The plant might take root and can be propagated in warm areas.
Raphis (ray-fiss) palm is native to China. It is sometimes called the ‘Lady Palm’.
The plant can grow quite tall so it is used for landscaping or as a specimen plant displayed indoors. The leaves are harvested and used for tropical flower arranging.
Like many palm it does flower and produce a rough fruit.
Keep the stem of the leaf in water after cutting.
Hawaiian Flower Care Instructions
In addition to our Hawaiian Flower Guide we also have a guide to taking care of your Hawaiian flowers, loose orchid blossoms and leis.
SummaryArticle NameHawaiian Flower Buying GuideDescriptionThis Hawaiian flower guide will introduce you to the most popular tropical flowers used for Hawaiian flower arranging. Use this guide before sending fresh flowers from Hawaii as a gift or for your home. Different flowers have different meanings. Most Hawaiian flowers last longer than other blooms.AuthorFrank MacMillanPublisher NameWith Our AlohaPublisher Logo
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