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The alluring islands of Hawaii are well known for their lush rainforests, volcanic mountains, and of course, beautiful beaches. But one of the most iconic parts of Hawaiian scenery is the brightly colored and sweetly fragrant plumeria flower that adorns Hawaiian lei and decorates gardens, yards, and roadsides across the islands.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The plumeria is the flower most closely associated with traditional Hawaiian culture and the Hawaiian islands. Its Hawaiian name is melia.

In this comprehensive guide, we will uncover everything you need to know about this exotic, tropical flower, from its origins and history in Hawaii to its meaning and uses in Hawaiian culture today. You’ll learn how to identify different plumeria varieties, proper care and growing tips, and why the plumeria holds such significance for native Hawaiians.

The Origins and History of the Plumeria in Hawaii

The Plumeria, with its vibrant colors and intoxicating fragrance, is a beloved flower that has become synonymous with the beauty of Hawaii. But did you know that this exotic flower is not native to the Hawaiian islands? Let’s delve into the origins and history of the Plumeria in Hawaii.

Plumeria’s Native Origins in Central America and Mexico

The Plumeria, scientifically known as Plumeria rubra, is native to Central America and Mexico. It thrives in tropical and subtropical climates and is known for its ability to withstand high temperatures and strong winds. The flower’s name is derived from the French botanist Charles Plumier, who first discovered the plant in the late 17th century during his travels in the Caribbean.

The Plumeria’s popularity spread throughout the Caribbean and eventually made its way to other tropical regions around the world. However, it was in Hawaii where the Plumeria truly found its second home.

How Plumeria Was Introduced to Hawaii

The exact date of the Plumeria’s introduction to Hawaii is not known, but it is believed to have been brought to the islands by early Polynesian settlers. These settlers, who arrived in Hawaii around 800-1000 AD, brought with them a rich cultural heritage that included various plants and flowers, including the Plumeria.

Another theory suggests that the Plumeria was brought to Hawaii by sailors from the South Pacific. These sailors, who often stopped in the Hawaiian islands during their voyages, may have introduced the Plumeria to the locals. Regardless of how it arrived, the Plumeria quickly became deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture and tradition.

The Plumeria in Hawaiian Culture and Tradition

The Plumeria has a special place in Hawaiian culture and is often associated with love, beauty, and positivity. It is commonly used in leis, which are traditional Hawaiian garlands given as a sign of affection or respect. The Plumeria’s delicate petals and sweet fragrance make it a popular choice for leis, and it is often combined with other flowers and foliage to create stunning arrangements.

In addition to its ornamental uses, the Plumeria is also used in traditional Hawaiian medicine. The sap of the flower is believed to have healing properties and is used to treat various ailments, including skin irritations and inflammation.

The Plumeria’s presence in Hawaii is a testament to the island’s rich cultural heritage and its deep connection to nature. Whether you encounter the Plumeria in a lei, a garden, or a traditional Hawaiian ceremony, its beauty and symbolism are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Plumeria Varieties and Identification

Common Plumeria Species in Hawaii

Hawaii is known for its beautiful and exotic plumeria flowers. There are several common plumeria species found in the islands, each with its own unique characteristics. One of the most popular species is the Plumeria rubra, also known as the “frangipani.” This species features large, fragrant flowers in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, pink, and red. Another common species is the Plumeria obtusa, which is known for its smaller, waxy flowers and dark green leaves. The Plumeria pudica, also known as the “bridal bouquet,” is another popular species in Hawaii. It has slender, elongated leaves and produces clusters of white flowers with a yellow center.

How to Identify Different Varieties

Identifying different varieties of plumeria can be an exciting challenge. One way to identify them is by their flower shape and size. Some varieties have rounded petals, while others have pointed or elliptical petals. Additionally, the size of the flowers can vary from small to large, depending on the variety. Another way to identify plumeria varieties is by their color. While most plumeria flowers are white, yellow, pink, or red, there are also varieties with unique color combinations, such as orange and purple. Paying attention to the fragrance of the flowers can also help in identification, as different varieties have distinct scents. Finally, examining the leaves and overall growth habit of the plant can provide clues about its variety. Some varieties have broad, glossy leaves, while others have narrower leaves with a matte finish.

If you want to learn more about plumeria varieties and identification, you can visit the Plumeria Society of America website. They have a wealth of information and resources for plumeria enthusiasts, including a comprehensive guide to different varieties and tips on how to identify them. Happy exploring and may you find joy in the world of plumerias!

Growing Plumeria Plants and Care Tips

Ideal Climate and Growing Conditions

Plumeria plants thrive in warm and tropical climates, making them a popular choice for gardens in Hawaii and other tropical regions. They require plenty of sunlight, ideally at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Plumerias are also sensitive to cold temperatures, so it’s important to protect them from frost and provide shelter during the winter months. If you live in a colder climate, you can still grow plumeria plants in containers and bring them indoors during the winter.

Soil Needs

When it comes to soil, plumerias prefer well-draining soil that is slightly acidic. A mix of sand, perlite, and peat moss can create the perfect growing medium for these plants. It’s important to avoid soil that retains too much moisture, as this can lead to root rot. Adding organic matter, such as compost, can help improve soil fertility and drainage.

Watering and Feeding

Plumerias have moderate water needs and should be watered deeply but infrequently. It’s best to water them when the top inch of soil feels dry. Overwatering can cause the roots to rot, so it’s important to find the right balance. During the growing season, fertilize plumeria plants every two to three weeks with a balanced fertilizer. This will help promote healthy growth and abundant flowering.

Pruning for Optimal Blooming

Pruning is an important part of caring for plumerias and can help promote optimal blooming. It’s best to prune plumeria plants in early spring before they start actively growing. Remove any dead or damaged branches, as well as any suckers that may be growing from the base of the plant. Pruning encourages the growth of new branches and leads to more flowers.

By following these care tips, you can successfully grow and enjoy the beautiful and exotic plumeria in your own garden. Remember to provide them with the ideal growing conditions, pay attention to their soil needs, water and feed them properly, and prune them for optimal blooming. With a little care and attention, your plumeria plants will reward you with their stunning and fragrant flowers.

The Significance and Meaning of Plumeria in Hawaii

The Plumeria flower holds immense significance in Hawaiian culture. It is not only known for its beauty and fragrance but also for its deep spiritual and symbolic meaning. The Plumeria flower, also known as the “Lei flower,” is commonly used to make leis, which are a traditional symbol of welcome and affection in Hawaiian culture.

The Plumeria Lei

The Plumeria lei holds a special place in Hawaiian tradition and is often given as a heartfelt gesture to greet visitors or honor loved ones. The lei is made by stringing together Plumeria flowers, which are carefully chosen for their vibrant colors and sweet fragrance. When presenting a Plumeria lei to someone, it is customary to gently place it over their shoulders with a warm smile and a pleasant greeting of “Aloha.”

The Plumeria lei is not only a beautiful adornment but also carries a message of friendship, love, and hospitality. Wearing a Plumeria lei signifies a connection with the spirit of Hawaii and its people, fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Meaning of Plumeria Flower Colors

The Plumeria flower comes in a variety of colors, each carrying its own symbolism and meaning. The most common colors of Plumeria in Hawaii are white, yellow, pink, and red.

  • White: White Plumeria symbolizes purity, spirituality, and new beginnings. It is often associated with ceremonies and is commonly used in wedding leis.
  • Yellow: Yellow Plumeria represents positivity, joy, and friendship. It is often given as a symbol of happiness and good luck.
  • Pink: Pink Plumeria symbolizes love, romance, and femininity. It is often given as a token of affection or used to celebrate special occasions.
  • Red: Red Plumeria represents passion, desire, and courage. It is often used to express deep emotions and is associated with love and strength.

Plumeria in Hawaiian Folklore and Legends

In Hawaiian folklore and legends, the Plumeria flower holds special significance. According to one legend, the Plumeria tree is believed to be the dwelling place of Laka, the goddess of hula and fertility. The fragrance of the Plumeria flower is said to attract Laka’s presence and bring good fortune and blessings.

Another legend tells the story of a young warrior who fell in love with a beautiful maiden. When the warrior was tragically killed in battle, a Plumeria tree sprouted from his grave, symbolizing eternal love and remembrance.

These captivating stories and the deep symbolism associated with the Plumeria flower have made it an integral part of Hawaiian culture, cherished for its beauty, fragrance, and profound meaning.

Where to View and Purchase Plumeria Plants in Hawaii

Known for their vibrant colors and intoxicating fragrance, plumeria flowers are a beloved symbol of Hawaii. If you’re visiting the islands and want to experience the beauty of plumeria firsthand, or if you’re a local looking to add these stunning plants to your garden, there are several places where you can view and purchase plumeria plants in Hawaii.

Botanical Gardens and Plumeria Collections

One of the best places to see a wide variety of plumeria plants is at the botanical gardens and plumeria collections scattered throughout Hawaii. These gardens not only offer a stunning display of plumeria flowers in full bloom, but they also provide valuable information about the different varieties and care tips for these plants.

One notable botanical garden to visit is the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden on the island of Oahu. With over 50 different plumeria cultivars, this garden showcases the diversity of colors and forms that plumeria can take. Another must-visit location is the Nani Mau Gardens on the Big Island, which boasts a vast collection of plumeria trees and offers guided tours for visitors.

Local Nurseries Selling Plumeria

If you’re looking to purchase your own plumeria plants, local nurseries in Hawaii are a treasure trove of options. These nurseries specialize in growing and selling plumeria plants, ensuring that you’ll find a wide range of varieties to choose from.

One reputable nursery to check out is Plumeria Prideland in Maui, known for their high-quality plumeria plants and excellent customer service. Another great option is Koolau Farmers on Oahu, which offers a diverse selection of plumeria plants for sale.

Unique Plumeria Products

If you’re looking for more than just plumeria plants, Hawaii also offers a variety of unique plumeria products that make for great souvenirs or gifts. From plumeria-scented candles to handmade soaps and lotions, these products allow you to bring the essence of plumeria into your daily life.

One popular brand that offers a range of plumeria-scented products is Maui Soap Company. Their luxurious soaps and lotions are made with natural ingredients and feature the delightful fragrance of plumeria. For those who prefer a more artistic approach, Pua Plumeria offers handcrafted plumeria jewelry, including earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.

Whether you’re looking to admire the beauty of plumeria at a botanical garden, purchase your own plants from a local nursery, or bring the essence of plumeria into your home with unique products, Hawaii has something to offer for every plumeria enthusiast. So, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the allure of these beautiful and exotic flowers during your visit to the islands.


With their alluring fragrance and vibrant colors, plumeria hold a special place in Hawaiian culture. Though not native to the islands, over centuries plumeria have become integral to Hawaiian traditions, legends, and artistry. Getting to know these exotic beauties provides insight into what makes the Aloha spirit so unique. We hope this guide gave you a glimpse into the captivating world of the Hawaiian plumeria.

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