Text by Shannon Wianecki | Photos by Conn Brattain
Native Hawaiian Flowers
Enjoying native Hawaiian flora doesn’t require a foray into the mountains; many beautiful blooms love the beach as much as we do. Because the coastal environment is salty and wind-battered, flowers here tend to be diminutive. Aside from the large morning glory, the ones pictured are dime-sized or smaller. Look close and breathe deep; the fragrance of these wee blooms may pleasantly surprise you.
‘Ākulikuli (sea purslane) is a salt-tolerant groundcover that creeps right up to the edge of sea-splashed cliffs. Its pale-pink, star-shaped flowers are pretty, but it’s the succulent leaves that savvy gourmets covet: they’re filled with vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
A member of the rose family, ‘ūlei ranks among the loveliest of Hawaiian groundcovers. Its vinelike branches snake along the ground, bedecked in fragrant white blossoms. Hawaiians fashioned spears, fishnets, and backscratchers out of the strong, flexible wood.
Ubiquitous throughout the Islands, naupaka kahakai hedges have curious half-flowers tucked between their leaves. Naupaka kuahiwi, a similar species up on the mountain, has the same half-flower. Legends say the twin blooms represent separated lovers, doomed to live in opposite climes — one in the forest and one by the sea.
Lei makers collect as many as 800 delicate ‘ilima flowers to create the long, splendid necklaces once worn by Hawaiian royalty. This hardy shrub grows throughout the archipelago. In the harshest environments it lies papa (flat) against the ground.
Pōhuehue & Kauna‘oa
Beach morning glory, or pōhuehue, is shown here entangled with yellow strands of kauna‘oa (Hawaiian dodder). Both plants can be braided into lei and are said to be lovers who can’t bear to be apart. Surfers wishing for bigger swells will sometimes slap pōhuehue vines on the water for luck.
Elegant ko‘oloa‘ula blooms dangle upside down beneath silver, heart-shaped leaves. This rare, endangered species grows in a few dry forests, and can be seen on the Wailea Beach walk. Every ruby-colored blossom is a precious jewel.
Pele, the volcano goddess, once went fishing and left her baby sister Hi‘iaka on the shore. A beach vine formed a blanket over the babe, protecting her tender skin from the sun. The miniature morning glory was known thereafter as pā‘ūohi‘iaka: the pā‘ū (skirt) of Hi‘iaka.
This glossy yellow bloom belongs to ma‘o, the native cotton plant. Early Hawaiians strung ma‘o blossoms into lei, made dyes from its petals and leaves, and stuffed pillows with the soft, reddish-brown tufts that surround its seeds.
Pōhinahina (beach vitex) has lavender flower stalks, and hina (silvery) leaves that release a sagelike scent when crushed.
The honey-citrus perfume of naio (false sandalwood) hits you even before the slender-leafed bush comes into view. The stiff flowers are tiny, but their fragrance is powerful.