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Discover the Yellow Hibiscus: Hawaii's Official State Flower

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From the sun-soaked coastlines to the smoldering caldera of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii is home to an abundance of unique and gorgeous pua , or "flowers." These flowers are deeply rooted in traditional Hawaiian culture, from symbolizing gods and goddesses to being used medicinally by early Hawaiians. When the vibrant pua are strung together, they form stunning garlands or "garlands" that represent Hawaii and the aloha spirit. So let's take a closer look and discover Hawaii's state flower!

What is the official state flower of Hawaii?

Hawaii's official state flower is the yellow hibiscus ( Hibiscus bracketenridgei ). In Hawaii, it is also known as pua aloalo or maʻo hau hele . The literal translation of the latter is "traveling green hibiscus," which may be due to the peculiarity of its petals turning green when dry. In the early 20's, decades before Hawaii became a US state, Hawaiians adopted the hibiscus as their official territory flower. However, the legislature didn't specify what type of hibiscus was, so people aren't sure which one to use. At first, the native red hibiscus ( Hibiscus kokio ) or the Chinese red hibiscus ( Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ) became popular choices. Finally, nearly 70 years later in 1988, the yellow hibiscus, specifically the bracken hibiscus , was chosen as Hawaii's official state flower.

What does Huang Furong look like?

Yellow hibiscus is a tall shrub reaching a height of 33 feet. Its flowers are generally 5 to 6 inches in diameter and have a reddish or maroon center with prominent yellow stamens. These flowers usually grow alone, but it is not uncommon to see them growing in clusters at the ends of the plant's branches. The base of the plant has sharp spines that cause pain when touched.

There are two subspecies of yellow hibiscus:

  • Hibiscus fern subspecies. bracken . This type of hibiscus is found in dry forests and low shrubs that are either creeping shrubs or erect trees. It can be found at altitudes between 400 and 2,600 feet above sea level.
  • Hibiscus fern subspecies. mokuleianus . This hibiscus subspecies gets its name from Mokulēʻia, a place in the North Huaianai Mountains of Oahu where it can be found. It grows as a shrub or tree about 16 feet tall.
Discovery-the-yellow-hibiscus-the-official-state-flower-of-hawaii-1
The yellow hibiscus ( Hibiscus bracketenridgei ) has been the official flower of Hawaii since 1988.

©Nuttapong Wongcheronkit/Shutterstock.com

Where Can You See Yellow Hibiscus Flowers?

Yellow hibiscus flowers are found only in Hawaii and grow on all the major islands except Kahoʻolawe and Niʻihau .

Unfortunately, this flower is an endangered species, and while you may see them in island gardens, they are rarely left in the wild. Goats, cattle and pigs pose a major threat to Hawaii's yellow hibiscus plants. Invasive species and urban development have also taken over the plants' homes. Additionally, natural events such as fires are a major danger to yellow hibiscus plants, and their numbers have decreased significantly over the years.

An endangered plant, yellow hibiscus is protected in native Hawaii due to the state's Chapter 195D and the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. This means you cannot pick yellow hibiscus flowers. Additionally, anyone who ingests these plants is subject to civil and criminal penalties from state and federal governments.

However, you can still watch and appreciate the beauty of these cheerful yellow flowers! So keep your eyes open as you explore the Hawaiian Islands. You might be lucky enough to find vibrant yellow hibiscus in the garden or by the roadside, especially on the sunny west side of the island. Yellow hibiscus is most visible in spring and early summer, but you can still see its blooms year-round.

Uses of Yellow Hibiscus Flowers

Hibiscus flowers are very short-lived. That's why they are called symbols of the human soul. In the morning, they bloom yellow, transitioning to orange in the afternoon, and turning a deep pink-orange by sunset. Every day new flowers replace the previous day's flowers. Ancient Hawaiians used hibiscus flowers to make beautiful and colorful garlands . However, due to the delicate petals, these garlands only lasted a day before wilting.

Not only is hibiscus beautiful to look at, but it is also good for your health. Hibiscus flowers are edible, and historically, they have been used medicinally. Hibiscus buds and leaves are a mild laxative that can even be given to children. People also mash hibiscus into a juice and mix it with other plants, believing it to purify the blood. Also, eating the seeds of this flower is believed to make weak children strong.

Today, we know that hibiscus is also rich in vitamin C, which has been reported to help lower blood pressure. Many people enjoy candying them as a unique treat, or drying them for a sweet and colorful herbal tea. Combined with various healthy ingredients such as fruits, berries, turmeric, ginger, rose hips, chamomile, lavender or cactus, hibiscus herbal tea can also help reduce oxidative damage to the body from chemicals and pollution.

Other Official Flowers of Hawaii

In addition to Hawaii's official flower, the state designates a separate flower for each of its eight islands.

Hawaii: ʻŌhiʻa Lehua ( Metrosideros polymorpha )

Hawaii's "Big Island" is the youngest of all the Hawaiian islands, as evidenced by its fiery volcanic eruptions. According to legend, Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, lived on this island. Vibrant red 'ōhi`a lehua ( Metrosideros polymorpha ) flowers are iconic to the island. Many Hawaiian moʻolelo , "story," refer to the majestic ʻōhia tree, whose bright red flowers grace the landscape. This flower is known for being resistant and adaptable to even the harshest conditions. It even lives on lava inside the lava-filled crater of Kīlauea!

'Ohi'a lehua ( Metrosideros polymorpha ) is the official flower of the Big Island of Hawaii.

©Aaron Miyamoto/Shutterstock.com

Oahu: `Ilima ( Sida fallax )

The Hawaiian island of Oahu is often referred to as "The Gathering Island" because of its large number of residents, businesses, tourists and activities. Its official flower is the ʻilima ( Sida fallax ). This hibiscus herb is traditionally used medicinally and for making garlands . It takes up to 1,000 of these paper-thin flowers to create a single lei !

Royal Hawaiian Thunder Flower Ilima (Sida fallax)
` ilima ( Sida fallax ) is the official flower of Oahu, Hawaii.

© tamu1500/Shutterstock.com

Maui: Lokelani ( Damascena rose )

The petals of the delicate Lokelani rose ( Rosa damascena ) are very fragile. This is very rare, as it is the only flower on this list that is not native to Hawaii like its counterpart. The lokelani rose was brought to the islands in the 1800's. Gardeners love it because it looks beautiful and smells great.

Damask rose.
The Lokelani rose ( Rosa damascena ) is the only flower on this list that is not native to Hawaii, but it is the official flower of Maui.

©NOPPHARAT9889/Shutterstock.com

Kauai: Mokihana berries ( Pelea anisata )

Kauai's "Garden Island" is vibrant and colorful. The island's official flower is not a flower but a berry. The mokihana tree ( Pelea anisata ) is native to Kauai and its moist forests. The branches of this plant are often used for decorative purposes. When you crush the leaves of this tree, they release a strong aniseed aroma. Many also string the bright green berries to make beautiful garlands .

The mokihana tree ( Pelea anisata ) is native to the wet forests of Kauai and is the official plant of Kauai.

© Garry Killian/Shutterstock.com

Lānaʻi: Kaunaʻoa ( Cuscuta sandwidiana )

The vibrant golden-orange Kaunaa sheep ( Cuscuta sandwidiana ) is a Hawaiian dodder parasite that grows along beaches and shorelines. It is thin, leafless, and has a fragile stem dotted with small flowers that grow in clusters along the stem. Despite its delicate beauty, this parasitic vine takes other plants as hosts for their nourishment. In ancient Hawaii, the plant was used medicinally. Combined with other plants, it helps to clear the gastrointestinal tract, treat colds, and aid women in pregnancy and childbirth.

Cuscuta sandwidiana (Kauna'oa kahakai) is a parasitic vine and the only member of the genus Cuscuta endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.
Cuscuta sandwidiana or Kauna'oa kahakai , a parasitic vine endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, is the official plant of Lānaʻi.

©Mironmax Studio/Shutterstock.com

Molokaʻi: Pua Kukui Nut ( Aleurites moluccanus )

On Molokaʻi Island, there is nothing but nature, evoking a traditional Hawaiian feel. The flowers of the kukui tree, also known as the candlenut tree ( Aleurites moluccanus ), are the island's official flower. These ivory flowers have a delicate fragrance and a beautiful quality. Also the official state tree of Hawaii, the kukui tree has a fascinating history. Ancient Hawaiians brought it from Polynesia as a canoe crop. Kukui nuts are even used as a light source. The oil inside is highly flammable, so the nuts can be strung together and lit one by one. Today, Kukui nuts are still strung together to make traditional Hawaiian lei .

candle tree.
The flower from the kukui tree, also known as the candlenut tree ( Aleurites moluccanus ), is the official flower of the Moloka'i.

©Cel M. Tungol/Shutterstock.com

Kahoʻolawe: Hinahina Kū Kahakai ( Heliotropium anomalum )

Kahoʻolawe, the smallest of Hawaii's eight main islands, is uninhabited. One of its signature features is the silvery hinahina kū kahakai ( Heliotropium anomalum ), whose beaches and rocky coastal areas are covered with silver-green foliage. The plants produce small white, fragrant flowers, and their leaves are thought to be used in medicinal teas.

Heliotropium anomalum growing near Kuilima Bay on Oahu's North Shore
The silver hinahina kū kahakai or Heliotropium anomalum is the official plant of Kahoʻolawe.

©Sara Koivisto/Shutterstock.com

Niʻihau: Pūpū shell

Niʻihau Island is unique because its official flower is not a flower at all! In fact, Niʻihau's official "flower" is the island's endemic white pūpū shell. These shells sparkle like diamonds, creating a beautiful, luxurious garland . Necklaces made from these unique shells can be quite valuable and can take years to complete – some can even fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars! Queen Carpiolani herself is adorned with strings of Niʻihau shells, a symbolic gesture for British dignitaries celebrating the Golden Jubilee at the request of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

Tiger shellfish, also known as pupubei.
Niʻihau's official "flower" is the island's endemic white pūpū shell.

©Susan R Sherlin/Shutterstock.com

Next:

  • 15 Bird Species of Hawaii
  • 9 Native Plants of Hawaii
  • Explore Hawaii's 10 must-see waterfalls (with photos)
  • Ranked: Oldest Hawaiian Islands

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about the author


For 10 years I have been a professional writer with a special focus on nature, wildlife, ethnozoology and the human-animal relationship. My areas of interest include human-animal studies, ecocriticism, wildlife conservation, pets, and animal behavior. I graduated from Brigham Young University with a master's degree in comparative studies, focusing on the relationship between humans and the natural world. In my spare time, I enjoy exploring the outdoors, watching movies, reading, creating art, and taking care of my pets. Nothing makes me happier than spending a day in the company of animals.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is a Hawaiian lei?

Hawaiian lei is a traditional symbol of friendship and aloha. It is made of flowers, shells or other natural materials. These garlands are often given as gifts between loved ones or upon arrival to the islands.

Does each Hawaiian island have its own official flower?

Hawaii's official state flower is the yellow hibiscus ( Hibiscus bracketenridgei ). However, in addition to this, each Hawaiian island also has its own official flower to represent it:

  • Hawaii Island: ʻŌhiʻa Lehua ( Metrosideros polymorpha )
  • Oahu: `Ilima ( Sida fallax )
  • Maui: Lokelani ( Damascena rose )
  • Kauai: Mokihana Berries ( Pelea anisata )
  • Lānaʻi: Kaunaʻoa ( Cuscuta sandwidiana )
  • Molokaʻi: Pua Kukui Nut ( Aleurites moluccanus )
  • Kahoʻolawe: Hinahina Kū Kahakai ( Heliotropium anomalum )
  • Niʻihau: Pūpū Shell

What flowers are popular in Hawaii?

Along with hibiscus, frangipani is one of Hawaii's most popular flowers and is often used as a symbol of the island. Hawaiians and tourists alike wear frangipani, garlands, and jewelry to connect with the beauty of the islands and their culture. In Hawaiian, frangipani is called melia.

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