Category Archives: Flowers in my yard

31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 25:: Flowers in my yard: Lehua

yellow lehua blossoms

I am no gardener — I challenge anyone to beat me at brown thumb-ness — but I know what I like in a garden.

So when we moved into our current home a dozen or so years ago, I told The Coach that I really wanted to have native Hawaiian plants incorporated into our landscaping.

The centerpiece of which are our ohi`a lehua trees. The ohi`a tree is native to Hawaii, thriving in the upland forests on all islands. The nomenclature is a bit tricky, in that the tree is known as ohi`a, and the blossom is called lehua. Never vice versa. More on that in a little bit.

Our ohi`a lehua tree

One of our trees bears red lehua (lehua ‘ula) and the other bears yellow lehua (lehua mamo) blossoms. Trees with the red blossoms are generally more common, but for some reason our tree with yellow seems to do better.

Both the blossoms and the silvery leaf buds, know as liko, are used in lei making, particularly leis for hula. Every year at the Merrie Monarch Festival, several halau seem to choose leis of lehua –red or yellow or both — for their performances.

lei of red lehua. photo credit:

And, as is true of many elements of Hawaiian life, there are legends associated with this tree and its blossom. Here’s one, a love story (which many Hawaiian legends are):

In ancient times, there was a handsome chief named Ohi`a. He was deeply in love with a beautiful young maiden named Lehua. Ohi`a had eyes for no one else, and wooed Lehua and promised to be true to her always.

The two might have lived happily ever after, except that one day Pele, the goddess of fire, came upon Ohi`a and was absolutely smitten with him. Taking the form of a beautiful woman, Pele set out to seduce him. But Ohi`a was steadfast in his love for Lehua and refused Pele’s advances. Enraged, Pele decided that if she couldn’t have Ohi`a for herself, no one would. So she transformed him into a gnarly, twisted tree with gray leaves.

When Lehua saw what had happened to her lover, she cried out in anguish. The other gods heard her and took pity. They couldn’t undo what Pele had done, but they could turn Lehua into a bright red blossom on the tree, so that the lovers could never again be separated.

To this day, when you pluck a lehua blossom, it will rain — a sign of the tears the lovers shed at being separated from each other.

This is the twenty-fifth post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.

31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 18:: Flowers in my yard: Tiare

A pair of shrubs flank my front door: Tahitian gardenia (gardenia taitensis), or tiare.

The national flower of Tahiti, tiare is also beloved in Hawaii for its simple beauty and evocative fragrance.

This little snow-white blossom has a somewhat limited number of uses here in the islands. Rarely do we make leis from it — although the Tahitians do — because when the bud blossoms, it opens up flat like a daisy, which is not conducive to most lei designs.

And its small size and delicate structure — seven narrow, fragile petals projecting out from a hollow stem — prevent it from being useful in bouquets or arrangements. It pretty much starts to wilt and brown the moment you pluck it.

But as I say, it’s a special flower that holds special favor with island women. The tiare is infused in coconut oil to create Monoi Tiare Tahiti, the preferred moisturizer and tanning oil of our youth. To this day when I catch a whiff of Monoi, memories come flooding back.

When we wear flowers in our hair, tiare is one of our top choices. Perhaps you have heard of the island custom of wearing a flower over your ear, and that which ear you choose depends on your relationship status. The flower over your left ear (your heart side) means you’re spoken for; over your right ear means you’re available.

Here’s our girl with one of our tiare:

I think she either had a boyfriend at the time, or just prefers the left side.

This is the eighteenth post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.

31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 11:: Flowers in my yard: Red ginger

Whew — I was more than a little long-winded yesterday, wasn’t I?

Sorry about that; I’m going to give us both a little break today and just let the pictures do (most of) the talking.

We have quite a bit of red ginger growing in our yard, both front and back. Lots of us islanders include this plant in our landscaping, but it also grows wild in our rainforests, so chances are good you will see it when hiking in the mountains.

Just one stalk of red ginger in the center of the arrangement makes it “pop”

The color certainly adds a nice brightness to your outdoors, and the sturdy stalks, when brought indoors and added to an arrangement, will do the same for your home. Or wherever you want to add a decorative touch, which is why you often see it used for stage decorations.

And, this flower is probably the most common one you’ll see in cemeteries. So you’ll see buckets of red ginger for sale at most florists, making it easy for customers to pick up a bunch or two on their way to decorating their loved ones’ grave sites. For many people in the islands this is a weekly practice.

This is the eleventh post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.

31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 4:: Flowers in my yard: Plumeria

Yellow plumeria is by far my favorite of all the flowers growing in my yard. Not just because of its sweet fragrance, or its sunny style — if flowers had personalities, this one would have a most happy disposition — but mostly, I think because of all the memories.

There are lots of different varieties of plumeria in the islands, from the snowy white Singapore, to a bubble-gum pink, to a rich cabernet red. But the sturdy yellow, also known as graveyard, plumeria is probably the most common, and most commonly used for leis.

This is the most likely candidate to be the lei you will have draped around your neck when you get off the plane in Honolulu. Or at least it used to be, before the lei greeters discovered they could bring in orchids from Thailand in big quantities a lot cheaper. And that’s fine; most visitors are just happy to have the authenticity of fresh flowers hanging about them in the Hawaiian tradition.

But for me, even though there are plenty of leis more elegant, exquisite or dazzling, a graveyard plumeria lei just, well, means more. This is because I’ve been making, giving and wearing them since I was about five. They were the lei of choice for every single hula performance I was in during my childhood. When I was a sophomore and junior in high school, my friends and I made dozens of them to give to our older friends on their graduation night. Then — back in the days before airport security — we would see our friends off to college at the airport, always with a lei we had made from flowers we picked in our yard.

Graduation night: almost every single lei we are wearing is yellow plumeria, made by friends and family

Nowadays we are far more likely, when we need a lei for some occasion, to run to the lei shop and buy it. But there’s nothing like giving a cheerful yellow plumeria lei that you’ve strung yourself — with aloha, of course.

This is the fourth post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.