Discover the incredible beauty of Hawaii’s flora. With its tropical climate, Hawaii is home to a wide variety of flowers, some of which are rare and endangered. In this article, we explore 13 unique plants that originated in the island state of Hawaii.
When we imagine a tropical paradise, Hawaii instantly comes to mind. Its breathtaking 1,200 km coastline, warm tropical climate, and diverse wildlife make it an extraordinary destination. What sets Hawaii apart is its unique position as the only state outside of North America and an archipelago, creating a one-of-a-kind environment for a wide array of Hawaiian flowers to flourish.
Situated in the vast Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is one of the most remote places on Earth, separated by over three thousand miles from any other continental land. This isolation limits the dispersal methods for birds, wind, water, and other flora, resulting in an astonishing 89% of endemic native plant species.
In this list, we showcase a collection of vibrant tropical flowers found exclusively in Hawaii. From common to rare and even highly endangered species, let’s explore 13 distinctive Hawaiian flowers that can be encountered nowhere else but in the enchanting islands of Hawaii.
Scientific Name: Gardenia brighamii
Let me introduce you to the Hawaiian Gardenia, a unique treasure exclusive to Hawaii. Unlike the common gardenia found throughout America, this species is endemic to the islands. Standing up to 16 feet tall, its petite tree showcases glossy, dark leaves and exquisite white flowers with fused petals. With a delightful coconut fragrance, these flowers are often used in lei, adding a touch of natural elegance.
Unfortunately, the Hawaiian Gardenia faces critical endangerment, limited to just five Hawaiian Islands due to habitat loss and invasive species like fountain grass. However, in Hawaii, it continues to be cherished as an ornamental plant, a symbol of resilience and beauty. Explore the enchanting world of this rare and fragrant flower, embodying the spirit of Hawaii’s unique flora.
Hinahina Hawaiian Flower
Scientific Name: Geranium cuneatum
Meet the Silver Geranium, a charming low-growing shrub also known as Geranium cuneatum. This perennial beauty thrives in open, drier areas at higher elevations, reaching a modest height of three feet. Its elegant white to yellowish cream-colored flowers, adorned with slender, egg-shaped petals, captivate the eye. Some petals boast a touch of purple at the throat, adding a hint of allure.
But what truly sets this geranium apart is its striking foliage. Covered in silky hairs, the leaves shimmer like silver in the sunlight, creating a mesmerizing effect while preserving precious moisture. The Silver Geranium, alongside Geranium hanaense, Geranium multiflorum, and Geranium arboreum, calls the high slopes of Haleakala National Park its home, earning the park the moniker “geranium capital of the world” among botanists.
Scientific Name: Dianella sandwicensis
Step into the enchanting world of the Uki Uki, commonly known as the Hawaiian Lily. Once part of the lily family, it now stands as the sole representative of the Asphodelaceae family in the Hawaiian Islands. While its flowers may not boast flamboyance, their delicate beauty gracefully emerges amidst tall, slender leaves. Ranging from white to pale blue, these blooms captivate with their contrasting orange filaments and yellow anthers.
The Uki Uki’s legacy extends beyond its blooms. Its purple berries find purpose in Hawaii as a natural dye for Kapa and other textiles, as well as in the creation of seeded leis. The species name, sandwicensis, pays homage to the archipelago’s former designation as the “Sandwich Islands,” bestowed by the renowned explorer James Cook during his voyages.
Whether in open or shaded sites, from mesic forests and dry shrubland to elevated wet forests and grasslands on lava, the Uki Uki thrives, adding a touch of delicate elegance to its surroundings. Immerse yourself in the beauty of this remarkable Hawaiian Lily, a testament to the vibrant natural wonders found on the islands.
Scientific Name: Abutilon menziesii
A critically endangered treasure, the Hawaiian Flowering Shrub, endemic to the stunning landscapes of Hawaii. Belonging to the mallow family, Malvaceae, this remarkable shrub can reach towering heights of up to 10 feet, its larger leaves often concealing the charming hibiscus-like flowers. While predominantly red, these exquisite blooms also grace the landscape in shades of pink, salmon, maroon, purple, and butter, accentuated by a yellow to green staminal column and elongated stamens.
This captivating flower finds sanctuary in the dry forests of Lana’i, Maui, O’ahu, and the Hawaii Islands. Alas, its survival hangs by a thread, with a mere 450 to 500 plants remaining in their natural habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The encroachment of agricultural and urban development, overgrazing, and the invasion of insidious weeds have pushed this species to the brink of critically endangered status.
Pua Kala Hawaiian Flower
Scientific Name: Argemone glauca
Unveiling the captivating Hawaiian Poppy, also known as the Beach Poppy or prickly poppy. Its sporadic blooming throughout the year reveals stunning, short-lived flowers that grace the landscape for just a single day. These showy blooms, large and white, boast a vibrant yellow center adorned with yellow stamens and a purple stigma, creating a striking contrast against the crepe-textured petals and waxy leaves.
Although the Hawaiian Poppy’s lifespan may be fleeting, its hardy seeds ensure a quick spread. Remarkably, it is one of the few native flowers capable of withstanding fires. While the prickles on its leaves may seem disadvantageous, they serve a purpose in directing foot traffic within conserved areas and parks. Look for this remarkable flower in the dry woodland coastal regions across all the main islands.
Ma’o Hau Hele
Scientific Name: Hibiscus brackenridgei
Introducing the Hawaiian Hibiscus, also known as the Yellow Hibiscus, a cherished symbol that became Hawaii’s state flower on June 6, 1988. Tragically, this remarkable flower now finds itself on the endangered species list. Among the seven hibiscus species native to Hawaii, it is the Chinese Hibiscus that graces the islands most prominently. Despite its endangered status in the wild, it continues to flourish as an ornamental plant.
The Hawaiian Hibiscus presents itself as a compact shrub, capable of reaching heights of up to 15 feet. Its blooming period commences in late winter or late spring, painting the landscape with vibrant colors throughout the year. Despite the brevity of each bloom, it offers long-lasting seasonal beauty and captivating interest. The bright yellow petals, textured with delicate veins, enclose a deep red throat, while a tropical yellow staminal column takes center stage, truly captivating the beholder.
Scientific Name: Brighamia rockii
The Molokai Ohaha, a remarkable flowering plant belonging to the Bellflower family, Campanulaceae. This exquisite species is endemic to the captivating island of Moloka’i in Hawaii. Residing amidst the rocky cliffs of five mesic shrublands and forest areas, it faces a critical endangerment, with a dwindling wild population of fewer than 200 plants.
Standing tall at up to 16 feet, the Molokai Ohaha boasts succulent-like stems, earning it the endearing common name, “cabbage-on-a-stick.” Bright green, shiny, oval-shaped leaves form a delightful rosette atop the plant, captivating the eye.
Multiple inflorescences adorned with three to eight trumpet-shaped, white flowers add a touch of ethereal beauty. Blooming in late fall, this flower unveils its sweet fragrance, enchanting all in its vicinity.
Discover the rare elegance of the Molokai Ohaha, a testament to the unique flora found on the island of Moloka’i. Let its presence inspire us to protect and preserve the natural wonders of Hawaii, ensuring the survival of this critically endangered treasure for generations to come.
Kanawao Hawaiian Flower
Scientific Name: Broussaisia arguta
Introducing the Hawaiian Happy Face, a beautiful flowering plant native to Hawaii. This perennial plant belongs to the Hydrangea family and can be found in mesic and wet forests across the main Hawaiian Islands. Its widespread presence is due to the birds that eat its flowers and seeds, spreading them throughout the forests.
The Hawaiian Happy Face displays showy flowers in various colors, including cream, white, yellow, pink, light blue, and greenish-white. It grows up to 20 feet tall, featuring evergreen leaves with toothed edges. Fun fact: Happy Face Spiders are often found under its leaves.
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Scientific Name: Sophora chrysophylla
Introducing the remarkable Mamane, an endemic shrub and towering tree of Hawaii. Reaching impressive heights of up to 50 feet, this perennial flowering plant belongs to the Fabaceae family, commonly known as the pea and bean family. With slightly golden branches and pinnately compound leaves, Mamane showcases its beauty through clusters of butterfly-like bright yellow flowers.
Mamane thrives across the main islands of Hawaii, with the exception of Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe. It prefers shrublands, mesic and dry forests, and occasionally graces wet forests. The blooming period varies depending on the location, but this versatile plant generally provides a prolonged display of vibrant blossoms. In the past, its hardwood played a role in religious rituals, believed to ward off evil spirits. Today, Mamane continues to be utilized in the construction of fences, spears, sleds, fence posts, and even for smoking meat.
Scientific Name: Kokia cookei
The Moloka’i Treecotton, also known as Koki’o, is a plant that is exclusively found in Hawaii. However, it is disheartening to note that it no longer exists in the wild. This species now survives solely as a cultivated plant, as the last wild individual perished in the early 1990s. Astonishingly, there are currently only 23 grafted plants remaining, making it one of the rarest plants on Earth.
The decline of the Moloka’i Treecotton is believed to be connected to the dwindling population of Hawaiian honeycreepers, with two out of three Honeycreeper species already extinct. Koki’o, a small deciduous tree, once adorned the lowland dry forests of Moloka’i Island. Its magnificent red blooms, reminiscent of the tropical Hibiscus, added a touch of beauty to the landscape.
Scientific Name: Lipochaeta connata
The Lipochaeta, commonly known as Nehe, belongs to the Asteraceae family, also known as the daisy family. This genus of flowering plants is found exclusively in Hawaii, specifically on the Ni’ihau and Kaua’i Islands. There are two subspecies of the Lipochaeta, namely “acris” and “connata,” but there is currently no available information regarding its conservation status. However, like many other endemic Hawaiian flowers, it is considered rare.
Nehe is a perennial herbaceous subshrub that typically reaches a height of eight inches. It produces small, yellow, daisy-like flowers that can bloom throughout the year under favorable conditions. The delicate petals have toothed edges and enclose a green center. It is believed that these flowers were commonly used for creating leis, with yellow flowers often signifying a distinguished or divine status.
Hawiian Red Cranesbill
Scientific Name: Geranium Arboreum
The rare and endangered Red Cranesbill, also known as Hawaiian Red Cranesbill, is a species native to the island of Maui. This remarkable plant can reach heights of up to 13 feet in the wild, and it is renowned for its striking fuchsia-to-red colored blooms. Notably, its leaves feature rough edges resembling teeth.
The Red Cranesbill belongs to a unique genus that relies on bird pollination, making it the sole species within the genus to fall into this category. Unfortunately, the current population of this species is estimated to be no more than 50 plants, highlighting the urgency for conservation efforts.
Scientific Name: Bidens cosmoides
Introducing the extraordinary Cosmosflower Beggarticks, a distinctive member of the sunflower family. This plant holds an exclusive presence on the captivating Kaua’i Island in Hawaii. Standing tall as one of the largest in the Bidens genus, it boasts a uniqueness that sets it apart.
The enchanting relationship between this plant and the native birds, particularly the Honeycreepers, adds to its exceptional allure, but sadly, both species are endangered, facing challenges from invasive weeds and bushfires.
Behold the remarkable Bidens cosmoides, a perennial herbaceous vine that offers sporadic year-round blooms, creating a mesmerizing sight under favorable conditions. Its flowers, significantly larger than those of its relatives, catch the eye with their vibrant shades of bright yellow to orange.
A dark crimson throat adds an intriguing contrast, while long, thick stamens complete the striking visual display. The locals have bestowed upon it the special name “Po’ola Nui,” signifying its distinctive character.
Related Queries (Tropical Flowers from Hawaii)
Hibiscus, the official state flower of Hawaii, graces the islands in abundance. Whether it’s along the roadside or hidden within backyard gardens, this vibrant flower can be found almost everywhere.
Since their introduction from the Philippines in 1896, Dendrobium orchids have captured the hearts of Hawaii’s residents. These enchanting flowers have gained immense popularity and are now considered the most valuable commercial flower in the entire state.
The plumeria flower holds a special place in Hawaiian culture, beloved for its beauty and symbolic meaning. It is widely recognized as a symbol of love, birth, spring, and new beginnings.
The Stephanotis floribunda, also known as Madagascar jasmine, waxflower, Hawaiian wedding flower, or bridal wreath, is a beautiful flowering plant belonging to the Apocynaceae family. Native to Madagascar, it is a twining vine with sparse branching that can grow up to 6 meters in length.
If you’ve had the opportunity to explore the magnificent islands of Hawaii, you must have marveled at the extraordinary array of fauna and flora. Among them, the endemic Hawaiian flowers hold a special allure, but sadly, many are endangered. Fortunately, extensive efforts are underway to safeguard their existence. This compilation showcases 13 exquisite Hawaiian flowers that can only be found in Hawaii, serving as a testament to their breathtaking beauty. Moreover, it’s worth noting that there are likely countless more hidden floral treasures awaiting discovery in the enchanting landscapes of Hawaii.