Now a days leis can be found to be made from a wide variety of flowers. The Hawaiian Encyclopedia places lei flowers into six (6) different categories:
- Polynesian Introduction
- Post-Contact introduction
All these flowers came to the islands in different time periods and in different ways but most are currently growing on the islands. Over thirty types of flowers are listed as being commonly used to make lei. Below we’ve highlighted five (5) of the more common and popular that you are likely to see.
1. ‘Okika or the Dendrobium Orchid
This orchid flower is the most common flowers used in lei production. Generally found in lavender it can also be yellow, pink, white or green. This orchid flower is categorized as Post-contact introduction. The name Dendrobium originates from greek and means “one who lives on tress.” This orchid was established in 1799 and now has over 1,200 species.
2. Pikake – Arabian Jasmine
This popular lei flower was originally brought to the island by Chinese immigrants, which would place it in the post-contact category. Known for it’s fragrant blossom it’s a popular lei for weddings but can be found at any special occasion.
3. Melia – Plumeria
This flower has a star-like blossom and was introduced to the islands in the 1800s. It can be found in a variety of different colors such as white, red, pink, yellow and can also grow as a combination of these colors. It has become a popular flower for leis because of fragrance. The flower grows on a tree that has a milky white sap that is poisonous so if you see one in the wild, best to avoid it.
4. Ponimo’i – Carnation
The carnation is originally from ther Mediterranean region introduced to Hawaii by Protestant missionaries in the 1800s. The carnation comes in a variety of colors the red and white being the most popular. White carnation flowers are generally worn by women while men wear red. The carnation flower was known to be the favorite flower of King Kalaukaua.
5. Pua Male – Stephanotis
Also commonly known as Madagascar Jasmine or bridal veil this flower is also part of the post-contact group of flowers. Generally popular at weddings, this white flower grows as a vine. This beautiful plant in known for being tempermental and difficult to grow.
These are just scratching the surface as there are another 25 to 30 variety of flowers you can find in a lei production. The beauty of the leis is in their variety and their uniqueness. No two leis will ever be the same.
What’s your favorite flower?