The Flowers of Maui Nui

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”  ~Indian Proverb

Flowers are integral to the cultural tapestry of Hawai’i. These are na pua o Maui Nui — the flowers of Kaho’olawe, Lanai, Maui, and Molokai.

Hinahina (heliotropium anomalum) is the plant of Kaho’olawe. The leaves are somewhat succulent and often grow in rosettes towards the tips of the stems. The small, white, tubular flowers are sweetly fragrant. Don’t confuse hinahina with Spanish moss or Pele’s hair. In pageantry the Spanish moss is almost always substituted for the native hinahina to represent the island of Kaho’olawe, since it is easier to get Spanish moss than it is to get the native heliotrope.


Lanai’s flower Kaunaoa (cuscutaceae) is not really a flower, but a rare yellow and  orange air plant. Lei makers take the thin, light orange strands of this vine and twist them together to form lei. Legend says that the goddess Pele fled to Lanai from her angry sister Namakaokahai, the goddess of the sea, and dropped her Kaunaoa lei at the beach, where golden vines started growing.

The pink Lokelani (rosa damascene) is the official flower of Maui. Native to Asia Minor it was brought to the New World by the Spanish and introduced to Hawai’i in the early 1800s. The Lokelani is prized by gardeners for its beauty and fragrance and is the only non-native plant to be recognized as the official flower of any of the Hawaiian islands.

The white Kukui blossom (aleurites moluccana) is the flower of Molokai. It is the blossom of the very useful Kukui tree. The flowers, leaves and the nuts are often used in lei. The nuts are used for their oil, can be eaten, and contain a black dye that is used for tattooing. The wood of the Kukui tree was used for making canoes and the leaves were chewed to relieve sorrow.




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