Hawaiian Flowers: 21 Different Flowers Found Only in Hawaii

Hawaii is home to some of the most beautiful flora on the entire earth. With it's tropical climate, it's also home to many different flower types, some which are very rare, and even endangered. In this article, amateur gardener Emma Braby examines 21 different flowers that originate in the island state of Hawaii.

Hawaiian Flowers

When people think of a tropical island, most of us instantly think of Hawaii. With more than 1,200 km of stunning coastline, a warm tropical climate, and a wide variety of wildlife, flora, and scenery, Hawaii is an extraordinary place for sure. Hawaii is also the only state outside of North America and the only state that is an archipelago (a collection of islands to form one state). Making it a unique environment for many types of Hawaiian flowers to grow. 

Hawaii lies in the Pacific Ocean, more than three thousand miles away from any other continental land. This makes it one of the most isolated places on earth. Because it is so far away from any other place, birds, wind, water, and other flora spreading methods are very limited compared to mainland USA. As a result, Hawaii has an unusually high proportion of endemic native plant species, 89% to be precise! 

In the following list, we have chosen a selection of brightly colored tropical flowering plants from Hawaii. Some flower types are common, more are rare, and some are extremely endangered. So, let’s look at 25 different Hawaiian flowers only found in Hawaii.

Nanu

Gardenia Brighamii
The Nanu is part of the gardenia family, which is largely found across the United States.

Scientific Name: Gardenia brighamii 

You might have heard of gardenia because it is a common species found throughout America, but the Hawaiian Gardenia is endemic to Hawaii. It is part of the coffee family, Rubiaceae. The flowers are born on a small tree that reaches up to 16 feet tall. The leaves are dark, glossy, and ovate. The tree produces solitary, white flowers with six petals fused at the base. One side of each petal is crimped, offering a beautiful shape. 

This flowering plant is critically endangered, and it inhabits dry, tropical forests. Although it was previously found on all Hawaiian Islands, it is now only found on five. The loss of natural habitat and invasive species such as fountain grass has reduced the Nanu population hugely. It is grown as an ornamental plant in Hawaii. The fragrant flowers that smell like coconut are commonly used in lei. 

Hinahina

Hinahina Flowers From Hawaii
The hinahina flower is commonly used in the Hawaiian Lei.

Scientific Name: Geranium cuneatum 

Sometimes known as Silver Geranium, this is a perennial low-growing shrub commonly found in open, drier areas at higher elevations. The shrub grows to about three feet tall, and it produces white to yellowish cream-colored flowers. Each bloom consists of five narrow, egg-shaped petals, either solidly colored or lined with purple at the throat. The leaves are oblong-wedge-shaped and lined with veins and teeth at the edge. 

The flowers give way to long fruit pods shaped like an upraised crane’s bill. It is known as Silver Geranium because the leaves are covered in silky hairs that reflect sunlight and preserve moisture, giving it a silvery sheen. Geranium cuneatum is the most common species of geranium. It is one of four geraniums endemic to the high slopes of Haleakala National Park, nicknamed the “geranium capital of the world” by botanists. The others types are the Geranium hanaense, Geranium multiflorum, and Geranium arboreum. 

Image Credit: David Eickhoff via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)

Uki Uki

Dianella Sandwicensis
The Uki Uki is also commonly known as the Hawaiian Lily.

Scientific Name: Dianella sandwicensis

The Uki Uki is commonly known as the Hawaiian Lily because it was formerly part of the lily family. It is now part of the Asphodelaceae family, and it is the sole family representative to the Hawaiian Islands. The flowers are not particularly showy, but they are delicately beautiful sitting amongst tall, slender leaves. The flowers range from white to pale blue, contrasting orange filaments and yellow anthers. 

The purple berries are still used in Hawaii as a natural dye for Kapa and other cloths and in seeded lei. The species name, sandwicensis, refers to the “Sandwich Islands,” which the Hawaiian Islands were once called and named by James Cook during his voyages. It is typically found in open or shaded sites such as mesic forests, dry shrubland, elevated wet forests, and grassland on lava. 

Koʻoloaʻula

Abutilon Menziesii
The Ko’oloa’ula is another very rare and endangered shrub.

Scientific Name: Abutilon menziesii 

This is a critically endangered flowering shrub endemic to Hawaii. It is part of the mallow family, Malvaceae. It can reach heights of up to 10 feet, and the flowers are often hidden by the larger leaves. But up close, the flowers are charming, hibiscus-like. The most common color is red, but other colors include pink, salmon, maroon, purple, and butter. The staminal column is yellow to green in color, highlighting the elongated stamens. 

This flower is found in the dry forests of Lana’i, Maui, O’ahu, and Hawaii Islands. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) believes that only 450 to 500 plants remain in their natural habitats. Again, agricultural and urban development, overgrazing, and invasive weeds are responsible for their critically endangered conservation status. 

Pua Kala 

Argemone Glauca
The Pua Kala is also known as the Hawaiian Poppy.

Scientific Name: Argemone glauca

This flower is commonly known as the Hawaiian Poppy, Beach Poppy, or the Prickly Poppy. The blooming period is sporadic throughout the year, with pretty blooms lasting only one day. The showy flowers are large and white in color, with a bright yellow center giving way to yellow stamens and purple stigma. Together the crepe-textured petals and waxy leaves are striking. 

Sadly, Hawaiian Poppies are short-lived, but they produce hardy seeds that spread quickly. It is one of the few native flowers that can survive fire. The prickles on the leaves might be seen as a negative. However, it is excellent for directing foot traffic in conserved areas and parks. You will find this flower in dry woodland coastal regions on all the main islands. 

Ma’o Hau Hele

Hibiscus Brackenridgei
The Ma’o Hau Hele is part of the hibiscus family of plants.

Scientific Name: Hibiscus brackenridgei 

Also known as the Hawaiian Hibiscus, this yellow hibiscus was made Hawaii’s state flower on 6th June 1988. But sadly, it is now listed as an endangered species. There are seven species of hibiscus native to Hawaii, but it is the Chinese Hibiscus that is most commonly seen throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Although endangered in the wild, it is frequently grown as an ornamental plant. 

The Hawaiian Hibiscus is a small shrub that can grow up to 15 feet tall. It begins blooming late winter to late spring and flowers throughout the year. And despite the short flowering time, it provides long seasonal color and interest. The flowers are bright yellow, lined with textured veins and a deep red throat. It gives way to a yellow staminal column with a stunning, tropical appearance. 

Molokai Ohaha 

Molokai Ohaha Flower
As an endangered species, this flower is native to the island of Moloka’i.

Scientific Name: Brighamia rockii

The Molokai Ohaha is a flowering plant from the Bellflower family, Campanulaceae, and it is endemic to the island of Moloka’i in Hawaii. It is found in five mesic shrublands and forest areas on its rocky cliffs. Listed as a critically endangered plant, it is believed to have a total population of fewer than 200 plants left in the wild. 

Molokai Ohaha reaches up to 16 feet and has a succulent-like stem, and the overall shape earned this flower its common name, cabbage-on-a-stick. The leaves are bright green, shiny, and oval-shaped, forming a rosette on top of the plant. The lovely foliage gives way to multiple inflorescences consisting of three to eight white, trumpet-shaped flowers. It blooms in late fall and is sweetly fragranced. 

Image Credit: David Eickhoff via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)

Kanawao 

Kanawao
One of the more common Hawaiian flowers on our list is the Kanawao.

Scientific Name: Broussaisia arguta

This is a perennial flowering plant from the Hydrangea family, Hydrangeaceae, endemic to Hawaii. It is widely found in mesic and wet forests throughout the main Hawaiian Islands, making it one of the most widespread on this list. One of the main reasons for its common status is that native birds love to eat the flowers and seeds, spreading them throughout the forests. 

The flowers are showy and presented in many colors, including cream, white, yellow, pink, light blue, and greenish-white. It is a long-lived plant that thrives in higher elevations, and it reaches 20 feet with evergreen leathery, tooth-edged leaves. Happy Face Spiders like the underside of their leaves

Haha

Haha Hawaiian Flowers
The haha is more common in the wild, and can sometimes be seen in hanging displays.

Scientific Name: Cyanea angustifolia 

This flowering shrub is relatively common in its natural habitat. Still, it is rarely seen in cultivation despite being easy to grow. It usually grows in 150 to 2,500 feet elevations in mesic and wet forests and valleys. It is a member of the Bellflower family most commonly found in the Ko’olau Mountains. Haha reaches up to 10 feet tall, sometimes higher. 

It blooms sporadically year-round, and the flowers are usually white, pink, or purple in color. The inflorescence is presented in hanging displays consisting of 6 to 25 curved flowers. Purple berries follow flowering, and birds help to spread the seed. Early Hawaiian inhabitants used to cook and eat the coarse and narrow leaves when food was scarce. 

Image Credit: David Eickhoff via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)

Mamane 

Mamane
This cheery yellow flowering plant is endangered and is in the process of being reforested.

Scientific Name: Sophora chrysophylla

Mamane is a shrub endemic to Hawaii, although it can also grow into a tall towering tree that reaches up to 50 feet tall. It is a perennial flowering plant found in the pea and bean family, Fabaceae. The tree branches are slightly golden in color, with pinnately compound leaves. Pea-shaped bright yellow flowers form in clusters at the end of branches, resembling butterflies. 

Mamane is found on all main islands except for Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe, preferring shrublands, mesic and dry forests, and very rarely, wet forests. Blooming time depends on location. But it is generally a long bloomer. Historically, hardwood was used in religious rituals to ward off evil spirits. Today, it is still used to make fences, spears, sleds, fence posts, and smoking meat. 

Alulu

Alulu Flower
The Alulu is a unique flower that consists of two different genera.

Scientific Name: Hillebrandia sandwicensis 

The Alulu is sometimes known as ‘Aka ‘Aka ‘Aka or Begonia’s Hawaiian Cousin. It is part of the Begoniaceae family, consisting of two genera – Begonia and Hillebrandia. Hillebrandia consists of a single species, which is the Alulu. It is also Hawaii’s only known relict plant, which means it has survived from an earlier period or in a primitive form. Making it excitingly unique in more ways than one. 

Alulu blooms from February to June, and the flowers are pink or white in color. Alulu likes to live in humid ravines and is presently found on Maui, Molokai, and Kauai islands. It has become extinct on some islands and has never been located on the Big Island. It is classified as an imperiled plant, not far from being endangered. 

Image Credit: Forest and Kim Starr via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)

Koki’o 

Koki’o
This beautiful exotic plant is so rare, it is extinct in the wild.

Scientific Name: Kokia cookei

Sometimes known as the Moloka’i Treecotton, this plant can only be found in Hawaii, but sadly, not in the wild. It now only exists as a cultivated plant, and the last wild specimen died in the early 1990s. The latest count suggests that only 23 grafted plants live, making it one of the rarest plants in the world. 

Its demise is thought to be linked to the diminishing population of Hawaiian Honeycreepers – two out of three Honeycreeper species are now extinct. Koki’o is a small deciduous tree that produces beautiful red blooms that are somewhat similar in appearance to the tropical-looking Hibiscus. It was previously found in the lowland dry forests of Moloka’i Island. 

Nehe 

Nehe Flower
The Nehe flower comes from the daisy family and is endemic to Hawaii.

Scientific Name: Lipochaeta connata

Lipochaeta’s common name is Nehe, and it is a genus of flowering plant from the daisy family, Asteraceae. It is endemic to Hawaii, specifically the Ni’ihau and Kaua’i Islands. There are two subspecies of this plant: “acris” and “connata”, but there is no information on its current conservation status. But like most endemic Hawaiian flowers, it is rare. 

Nehe is a perennial herbaceous subshrub that grows up to eight inches tall. It produces small yellow, daisy-like flowers that bloom all year round in the right conditions. The petals are delicately tooth-edged, with a green center. It is believed that they were commonly used for making leis, and yellow flowers were indicative of chiefly or divine rank. 

Image Credit: David Eickhoff via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)

Oahu Pilo Kea

Oahu Pilo Kea
This flower is an endangered species from the island of Oahu.

Scientific Name: Platydesma cornuta 

Sometimes known as Alani, the Oahu Pilo Kea is an endangered species of the Rue family, Rutaceae, from the island of Oahu. It has been listed as an endangered plant since 2012, and its most significant threat is habitat loss and the appetite of feral pigs. This erect perennial shrub produces narrow green leaves and grows up to 20 feet in height. The Pilo Kea prefers mesic forests. 

But the star of the show is the blooms. The flowers begin in sturdy square-shaped spiked green cases that eventually transform into white, waxy, bell-shaped flowers. They are small but showy flowers that appear close to the main branches. In the right conditions, they will bloom throughout the year. 

Image Credit: USWS via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)

Ohe ‘ohe

Ohe ‘ohe
The Ohe Ohe is a unique tree that grows up to about 25 feet tall and has a rope of blooms that hangs from it.

Scientific Name: Polyscias racemosa 

This beautiful flowering plant is from the Araliaceae family and is sometimes called the False ‘Ohe. It is endemic to the island of Kauai and is very rare in the wild, thanks to its natural habitat being replaced by sugar cane plantations. It is now listed as critically endangered after being rediscovered in the 1960s. This tree is usually found in coastal forests on exposed ridges and cliffs. 

Ohe’ Ohe is a small tree that grows up to 25 feet tall. The spreading branches that come from one straight trunk produce long rope-like strands covered in up to 250 small, pale yellow flowers. The throats of each flower are white and pink in color, contrasting with the wispy-like thin petals. The tree usually drops its leaves during the summer blooming season. 

Ma’ohi’ohi

Stenogyne microphylla flower
This Hawaiian flower is often called the Hawaiian Mint.

Scientific Name: Stenogyne microphylla 

Also known as the Hawaiian Small-leaved Mint, this plant grows in a vine-like habitat on the ground and other plants. Thankfully, it does not harm other plants and peacefully coexists alongside them. Like all the 22 members in the Stenogyne genus, this plant is endemic to Hawaii. Despite being called the Hawaiian Mint, it does not taste of mint. Still, its odor is intended to repel damaging grazers. 

The bloom is curved, highlighting a clear evolutionary relationship between flower and pollinator. This flower is pollinated by the Amakihi bird, whose bill is also curved. The stems are square in shape with four flat sides. The long blooms are magenta, purple, or white in color, with long protruding stamens. This plant is common in forests that are weed and ginger-controlled. 

Image Credit: Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)

Hawaiian Iliau

Hawaiian Iliau Flower
This plant from the sunflower family is usually seen in the Waimea Canyon.

Scientific Name: Wilkesia gymnoxiphium 

This is a flowering plant in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, endemic to the Kaua’i Island in Hawaii. Sadly, it is listed as endangered like many others on this list. It is most commonly found in the Waimea Canyon. Especially on the unreachable slopes where grazing goats cannot eat them. There are a few protected enclosures where dense populations can be appreciated. 

It is a monocarpic shrub that produces woody stems growing up to 16 feet tall. The leaves are displayed in whorls of 9 to 15 found at the base of the stem. The plant looks a little like a Palm Tree, topped with fountains of yellow, daisy-like flowers that bloom from May to July. Each flower head will seed and die separately. 

Image Credit: Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)

Ohi’a Lehua

Metrosideros Polymorpha
The Ohi’a Lehua is endemic to the six largest islands of Hawaii.

Scientific Name: Metrosideros polymorpha 

The Ohi’a Lehua is a flowering evergreen tree from the Myrtaceae family, endemic to the six largest islands of Hawaii. This flowering tree is viewed by natives as sacred to Pele and Laka, the volcano and Hula goddesses. The blooms are incredibly showy and are made up of a mass of brightly colored red or yellow stamens. It is slow-growing, but the tree itself is very hardy. 

Thanks to its hardiness and habitat spread, the Ohi’a Lehua tree is one of the most common on this list. It is also one of the first plants to grow from new lava flows and is found at sea level and in high cloud forests. It grows anywhere between 65 and 85 feet tall when in favorable conditions. But it is a much smaller shrub when found growing in boggy environments or on basalt. 

Oahu Riverhemp

Oahu Riverhemp
This tropical plant is considered endangered and is quite rare on most Hawaiian islands.

Scientific Name: Sesbania tomentosa 

Oahu Riverhemp is a flowering perennial plant from the pea family, Fabaceae. It is endemic to the main Hawaiian Islands and the Nihoa and Necker Islands. Alien plants, grazing, wildfires, off-road vehicles, and foot traffic have all threatened the status of this plant, contributing to its endangered status. But thankfully dense populations remain on Nihoa Island

This flowering shrub is polymorphic, meaning that it varies slightly in color and shape from island to island. Red, orange, and salmon hues are the most common shades, sometimes with shades of more than one color. The top petal is broad, and the other petal is narrow and long, giving it a unique shape. It is usually found in low shrublands and will bloom throughout the year in optimal conditions. 

Cosmosflower Beggarticks

Cosmosflower Beggarticks
This unique flower is also part of the sunflower family.

Scientific Name: Bidens cosmoides 

Commonly known as Cosmosflower Beggarticks, it is part of the sunflower family. It is endemic to the Kaua’i Island in Hawaii, and this plant is one of the largest in the Bidens genus. It is also pollinated by birds, particularly Honeycreepers, which is why their population is classed as endangered and slowly declining. Invasive weeds and bushfires are also to blame. 

Bidens cosmoides is a perennial herbaceous flowering vine that grows up to seven feet tall. The blooms themselves are so large and showy compared to their relatives that natives have given it another unique name, Po’ola Nui. The flowers are bright yellow to orange with a dark crimson throat, contrasting with the long, thick stamens. In the right conditions, it blooms all year sporadically. 

Image Credit: David Eickhoff via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)

Hawiian Red Cranesbill

Geranium Arboreum
This rare flower is rumored to have less than 50 plants in existence today.

Scientific Name: Geranium Arboreum

This rare species is known by the name “Red Cranesbill” or “Hawaiian Red Cranesbill.” It’s considered an endagered species, and is native to the island of Maui. It can grow about 13 feet high if in the wild, and is well known for it’s vibrant fuschia to red colored blooms. Their leaves also have rough edges which appear to be teeth.

This particular genus is pollenated by birds, and it’s the only species under the genus that falls into that category. There may be no more than 50 plants left alive currently, and conservation efforts are underway.

Image Credit: Forest and Kim Starr via Creative Commons (use permitted with attribution)

Final Thoughts 

If you’ve been lucky enough to visit the islands of Hawaii, you’ve probably noticed the abundance of uniquely beautiful fauna and flora. Many of the endemic Hawaiian flowers are endangered, and much work is being done to protect them. This list of 25 different Hawaiian flowers only found in Hawaii shows just how stunning they are. And just like the last flower on our list proves, there are probably many more flowers in Hawaii yet to be discovered.  

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