Who arrived in Hawaii before the Polynesians?
It’s not a who, but a what, and it's Hawaii’s native flowers.
The seeds of the islands’ most famous and beautiful features blew through the air and sailed the seas of the Pacific before making landfall on a whim. Upon their arrival, they grew, evolved, and became the diverse flora that plays a most important role in the everyday traditions of Hawaiian people from medicine to knowledge.
Here are some of the most beautiful native Hawaiian flowers that you’ll find only on these islands—or in some cases, only in remote mountain valleys of small islands.
1. Viola Chamissoniana (Pamakani)
The Viola chamissoniana, known in Hawaiian as Pamakani, is a relative of the violets you might find in your garden. Unlike your violets, however, the flowers are pure white.
The Viola chamissoniana is an endangered flower species. If you want to see it in the wild, you need to travel to one of only three remote spots in the Waianae Mountain Range on Oahu.
2. Hibiscus Kokio: Saintjohnianus (Kokio)
You’ll recognize this flower straight away: the hibiscus.
The Hibiscus kokio, or just kokio in Hawaiian, is a native hibiscus flower and one of the best of and brightest of the bunch. Unlike many of the other native flowers, it is also thankfully thriving and is nowhere near the endangered lists.
Like other hibiscus species around the world, the kokio is safe to brew and drink, and native Hawaiians use it medicinally.
3. Osteomeles Anthylidfolia (Hawaiian rose)
The Osteomeles anthylidfolia, or ‘ulei or Hawaiian rose, is a different type of flower to the beautiful bouquet species on the list. It grows on vine-like branches known as a groundcover and sprawls across four to ten feet of wet ground.
The white flowers found on the vines remind us of a tropical rose and are slightly fragrant. Scientists describe the Hawaiian rose's fragrance as “rose with a hint of mountain apple.”
These plants are incredibly resilient. They are one of the few native plants able to survive fires. The branches and bases make it particularly hardy.
Not only can they grow back from the ashes, but Hawaiians used the branches to make fishing nets, long spears, ukeke boards, and digging poles.
4. Abutilon menziesii (Red Ilima)
The Abutilon menziesii (Hawaiian name: Kooloa ula or red ilima) is one of the most elegant of Hawaii's native flowers. You might recognize these magnificent blooms from lei making, where they were once used.
The red ilima is the perfect wearable flower because the blooms last and last once cut from the vines. Traditional artisans would use as many as 800 of these delicate flowers to create leis for Hawaii's royal family.
Although the flower was one of the first to become endangered, it seems to be out of the woods. The shrub that produces them now grows in contemporary gardens, and the native flowers live in peace.
Where can you find these flowers in the wild? They grow throughout the Hawaiian islands. These shrubs will thrive in mild climates, but harsh environments tend to push it against the ground.
5. Lobelia Niihauensis (Haha)
The Lobelia niihauensis, known as Haha in Hawaiian, is another of Hawaii's federally listed endangered plant species. It grows on a shrub that may either reach dwarf or small size.
The flowers on the shrub bloom sporadically, but when they do, they produce up to 200 pink and purple flowers.
If you want to see these endangered blooms in the wild, you'll need to visit the exposed cliffs on Kaua'i, Ni'ihau, and among O'ahu's northern Wai'anae Mountains.
6. Ipomoea Pes-Caprae Brasiliensis (Beach Morning Glory)
Beach morning glory, or Poheuhue, is indigenous to Hawaii, and you'll find it across the islands including the most northwestern lands of the archipelago. These purple/pink flowers feature a dark purple center and lighter petals and grow on vines that may reach 30 feet in length.
Like other plants, beach morning glory is not just a pretty face. Native Hawaiians used the roots and leaves of the vine to create a paste for healing. They applied it to sores, wounds, and even to broken bones.
The leaves and roots are also edible and Hawaiians could eat them in minimal amounts in times of famine. Surfers also used the vines to improve water conditions. They would put them in the waves while chanting:
“Arise, arise ye great surfers from kahiki
The powerful curling waves
Arise with the Poehuehue
Well up, long-ranging surf.”
7. Gardenia Brighamii (Hawaiian Gardenia)
The Gardenia brighamii, or Hawaiian gardenia or nanu, is a federally listed endangered species and difficult to spot in the wild. If you do encounter them, you are likely to smell them before setting eyes on them. Their gardenia scent has a unique nose of coconut oil.
When many of the flowers are in bloom, they fill the air with their fragrance.
The flowers themselves occur at the end of the branches and live a solitary life.
The shrubs and small trees grow in all sizes from small to tall and can produce a canopy of 10 to 15 feet. Although they are simple to grow in a garden, you'll struggle to find them in the wild. There are only a few remaining wild specimens, and they are decades old.
One specimen has occupied the same habitat for over 65 years.
You can find them on O'ahu, Kanepu'u, Nanakuli, and Lana'i.
Find These Native Hawaiian Flowers in the Wild
These native Hawaiian flowers are some of the most distinctive flowers in the world, and some of the most endangered.
You can find them in the wild as well as in botanical gardens in Hawaii as well as the continental U.S. Many blooms aren't difficult to plant in your own backyard.
Wife, mother, grandma, blogger, all wrapped into one person, although it does not define her these are roles that are important to her. From empty nesters to living with our oldest and 2 grandchildren while our house is rebuilt after a house fire in 10/2018 my life is something new each day.