Tropical flowers on Kauai are always abundant! Shopping center parking lots, resort grounds and local gardens are landscaped with a vibrant display of a variety of heliconias, torch gingers, antheriums, orchids, hibiscus, plumeria and an array of flowering trees. In the summer the Royal Poinciana trees are draped in flame-red flowers along Poipu Road and the Golden shower trees and Rainbow shower trees that line the by-pass road in Poipu are in full bloom! Plumeria trees are draped in white, yellow, pink, red or multiple pastels and their fragrant blossoms scent the air. In several Pacific islands, such as Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tonga, and the Cook Islands, Plumeria species are used for making flower leis. It is common on Kauai to harvest the fragrant blooms of Plumeria, Tuberose, Pikake or Stephanotis ( pua male in Hawaiian literally meaning wedding-flower) from the side of the road or from a friendly neighbor’s yard to make homemade lei for visiting guests or family to the island and for special occasions.
Anthuriums are easily remembered by their glossy “plastic” looking heart shape. The shiny heart-shaped “flower” is actually the spathe, a waxy modified leaf or bract. The real flowers are tiny and are contained in dense spirals on the spadix, the elongated fleshy spike that rises from the center. Anthuriums are native to Central America and include some 500 species of which there are both climbing and herbaceous forms. All of the anthurium species commercially cultivated in the Hawaiian islands are related to Anthurium andraeanum which was introduced to Hawaii by way of London in 1889. Anthuriums are a favorite addition to tropical flower arrangements. They are long-stemmed and long-lasting and come in a huge variety of colors, shapes and sizes from pure white to deep red, candy pinks, greens and every shade of pastel.
Almost 25,000,000 anthuriums are shipped worldwide every year and the majority of these are grown on the drizzly windward side of the Big Island.
Anthuriums grow best in shady and humid conditions. They thrive in a variety of coarse growing media including macadamia nut shells, coffee parchment (the hard skin that encloses the coffee seed), Taro peel, wood shavings, black sand, etc. They require good drainage, do not like to be over-watered or to bake in direct sunlight.
Watch out – don’t try to eat them! Anthurium plants are poisonous due to calcium oxalate crystals that produce sores and numbing on ingestion and may even be fatal. Watch out for Taro too! Some people are sensitive to eating taro chips or Poi even though the kalo has been properly prepared.
Herbaceous Ginger plants are grown for their ornamental foliage and attractive flowers. They can be converted into fiber, spices, medicine, dye and perfume. There are two types of edible ginger grown in Hawaii – Japanese and Chinese. You are probably familiar with the Japanese pickled Ginger (Gari) that is served with sushi or sashimi and eaten between different kinds of sushi. It helps to enhance the flavor and helps to clean your taste buds. Perhaps you’ve been told it serves to help kill parasites in the fish, but I prefer not to think about that!
Ornamental Gingers are commonly grown in home gardens and commercial landscaping in Hawaii.
The shell Ginger is native to eastern Asia. It produces foot-long flower clusters crowded with bell-shaped blossoms in white, yellow and red.
Red Ginger plants are native to the Pacific Islands and are commonly grown in gardens for their long attractive flower spikes comprised of numerous brilliant red bracts. These flowering stems are used in most tropical flower arrangements.
Yellow Ginger is native to India and prefers to grow in moist partially shaded areas. They have an oval head of of light yellow blossoms that are highly perfumed. When driving to Kokee the scent is heavenly when these gingers are in bloom along the side of the road.
Not to be outdone by the aroma of the yellow Ginger, the white Ginger is even more exquisitely scented. The blossoms are larger and are pure white. This ginger is also known as butterfly ginger. Fragrant ginger buds are expertly woven and braided into intricate lace-like patterned leis that lie flat on the wearer.
Kahili Ginger is native to the Himalaya Mountains. Kahili’ is a Hawaiian word for a feather standard or a long pole decorated at one end with a cluster of feather plumes, which is a symbol of royalty and is/was used as a ceremonial emblem in Hawaii. it is an extremely invasive plant found growing throughout the Big Island. It has a large head of bright yellow o red flowers and is easily recognized by its red stamens.
Torch Ginger is native to Indonesia. It is a very tall plant growing to over ten feet in height with a large ornamental red or pink cone-shaped head.
You are most likely to see red Ginger (or the pink variety) and torch Ginger in tropical flower arrangements. They are waxy and hardy and last for a long time.
Perhaps the tropical flower genus with the most pizzazz would have to be the Heliconia family. With their long petioles and flowers aggregated in dramatic inflorescences these equatorial exotics can be captivating, playful and dramatic. What garden wouldn’t want to get its groove on by hosting Hot Rio Nights, Orange Gyro or Pyrotechnic? Imagine Sexy Pinkor Temptress stealing the spotlight with their glossy spiral pendent bracts dipping down and swirling gently in the breeze. Perhaps Metallica would be the most sensational with shimmering metallic purple foliage and flowering bracts of yellow red and green. Compared to the rest of the shrubbery in the yard, even Heliconia hirsuta a.k.a Chicken Scratchwould shine with its flaming red and orange bracts.
The star of the show would be Heliconia Rostrata a.k.a. Hanging Lobster Claw. The brilliant scarlet floral bracts edged with yellow and green are mesmerizing and like velvet to the touch.
Heliconias originally were classified as species of bananas because of their similar foliage. In 1771 Linnaeus established the new genus Heliconia, naming it after Helicon, a mountain in Greece, the home of Apollo and the muses. Heliconias were introduced to Hawaiian gardens from Central and South America.
The mokihana berry is the official island lei material of Kaua’i. The mokihana is a native citrus tree. The leathery anise-scented fruit must be strung within a few hours of picking. Hawaiian women and men both wear the strung berries as leis and the anise-scented twigs and berries were once a favorite perfume (placed between the folds of tapa cloths).
Mokihana belongs to the genus Pelea, derived from the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano, (Melicope Pele). Native to Kaua’i Island of Hawa’i, the mokihana grows to a height of 6 to 25 feet in moist to wet forests at elevations from 1,200 to 4,000 feet.