Knowing What Flower are Hawaiian Leis Made of?

More than nine million people visit Hawaii regularly every year. Most of those nine million people are given Hawaiian leis as part of the island’s tradition for tourists and visitors. So, if you happen to be one of the lucky people to have visited Hawaii, a lei might have been one of the few things you wore around your neck during your visit there. But have you ever stopped to wonder what Hawaiian leis are actually made of?

Hawaii flowers

Hawaiian leis are made of different flowers such as okika, pikake, Melia, carnations, pua male, and ti leaf. Plenty of different flowers are made into traditional Hawaiian leis, but such flowers are native to the Hawaiian islands. Some leis are even made of more than five different flowers.

Your Hawaiian experience will never be complete without a lei around your neck, as it is only in Hawaii where you can get to experience such an authentic tradition. Leis are indeed part of the tradition, but they are also aesthetically pleasing because of the flowers that make up the leis. So, if you are interested in knowing what these flowers are, it is best to read on to find out more about these Hawaiian flowers.

What are traditional Hawaiian leis made of?

Millions of people visit Hawaii on an annual basis as the island has become the top tourist spot for most people around the world. And when it comes to one of the most common experiences that visitors get to try the moment they arrive in Hawaii, the lei is a tradition that is hard to miss as anyone who has ever been to that island paradise knows what it’s like have one around the neck.

In case you didn’t know, the Hawaiian lei is a necklace made of flowers that have been customary in Hawaiian tradition for hundreds or even thousands of years already. While Hawaiians have used it for a very long time, it has since become a common tradition for them to lay a lei around the neck of a visitor to the island. So, in that sense, Hawaiian leis are basically made out of flowers, which are then put together to make the shape of a necklace.

What are Hawaiian flowers called?

So, now that you know what a Hawaiian lei is and that it is made of flowers, you might be asking by now what flowers the lei is usually made of. For starters, the Hawaiian lei is customarily made from different varieties of flowers native to the island of Hawaii. As such, there is no clear answer as to what kind of flowers you can see in a lei because they can be anything.

However, here are the more common Hawaiian flowers that you can find in a Hawaiian lei:

1. Okika
Okika is the Hawaiian term that is used for orchids. These flowers are most commonly used on a Hawaiian lei, particularly because they are sturdy and stunning to look at. They also come in a wide variety of different colors. As such, you can basically make an entire lei out of okika due to how there are plenty of different colors of orchids such as white, purple, green, yellow, and pink.

Hawaii Okika

2. Pikake
The pikake is the Hawaiian version of jasmine. It is called such because it basically is the direct translation of the word “peacock.” Not native to Hawaii, the white jasmines you often see on Hawaiian leis are actually from China but were introduced to the islands several hundreds of years ago. Pikake is often used in leis because it comes with a mild scent that won’t irritate the senses of those wearing a lei.


3. Melia
Plumeria, which is called Melia in Hawaii, is another popular flower used for Hawaiian leis. Like the white pikake, it wasn’t native to Hawaii until it was introduced during the 1800s. Since then, it has been grown abundantly, almost exclusively to be used for leis. Melia is popular for leis because it can be found in a wide variety of colors such as pink, yellow, white, and red while carrying a seemingly mellow scent and very light on the nose.


4. Carnation
The Hawaiian term used for carnation is ponimo’i. Carnations were also flowers that were introduced to Hawaii and were produced commercially to be made into leis. You can find ponimo’I in different colors such as white and red. But white is commonly worn by men, while red should be reserved for women.


5. Pua male
Called the Hawaiian wedding flower, pua male is also called stephanotis and is also a flower introduced to Hawaii several hundreds of years ago. Since then, it has become so popular on the island as the main choice for Hawaiian weddings due to how it carries a scent that is seemingly seductive enough to attract men and women alike. As one of the more difficult flowers to grow, pua male is quite valuable. Its flowers and vines usually make up the base of a Hawaiian lei.

6. Ti leaf
The ti leaf is the Hawaiian leaf that symbolizes luck. That is why it is often used for graduations and other similar big events in Hawaiian culture. While it doesn’t come with the same allure of a flower, ti leaves come in all sorts of different colors but are usually just greenish. Ti leaves are made into lei by braiding them together and adding different flowers to the braids to accentuate the beauty of the Hawaiian lei.

Can I bring a flower lei home from Hawaii?

If you are about to go back home from your Hawaiian vacation and you are feeling attached to your lei because of all of the memories that came with it and because you want to bring home a souvenir from your trip, you might be wondering if you can actually carry the Hawaiian lei back home to you.

For those living in the US mainland, you can bring a lei home as long as the components that make up the lei are not prohibited items. The good news is that most leis are made with components that are entirely safe to bring back home to the US mainland.

So, if you are intending on buying a lei as a souvenir from your Hawaiian trip, the best thing to do is to ask the vendor whether the lei is made of components such as fresh botanical fruits or if it has any citrus or citrus-related plant parts, or even Mauna Loa. If not, then you can safely bring the lei with you back home in the mainland US.

Why are leis given in Hawaii?

While tourists often see Hawaiian leis as something that the locals give to tourists as a customary gift for visitors to the island, that really isn’t the main reason why leis are given in Hawaii. In fact, there are plenty of different reasons why leis are given in Hawaii, and it is not just for tourists or visitors.

The lei is given as a symbol of greeting, so they are mostly given to tourists in Hawaii. But, at the same time, they could also be given as a symbol of a friendly farewell, such as when tourists are about to leave Hawaii.

However, the main reasons why leis are given are for friendship, love, and appreciation. That is why Hawaiian leis are also widely used for celebrations such as weddings, births, graduations, and other similar events that symbolize a new chapter in a person’s life. There are plenty of different reasons why leis are given, but the fact is that they are mostly to commemorate huge events in a friendly way.

Different types of flower leis

There is no single type of flower lei in Hawaii because there are several different kinds of leis that you can give to a person depending on the event and the occasion. Here are some of the more common types of leis that you can find in Hawaii:

1. Traditional
The traditional lei is the garland-like flower lei that is often given to visitors or tourists. However, even though it might be shaped like a necklace, you shouldn’t wear it like a necklace. Instead, you should be wearing the traditional lei draped on your shoulders and not hanging from your neck.

traditional hawaii leis

2. Head
Also known as the Haku lei, the head lei looks like a crown made of flowers. These types of leis are the most popular in Hawaiian weddings and on other occasions and events that are festive in nature. Of course, you are supposed to wear the Haku lei like a crown.

hawaii head leis

3. Corsage
The corsage lei is usually just made of one flower or a few flowers. These are reserved for those who prefer to be more discreet when wearing a lei as traditional leis, and Haku leis can be a bit too much for some people. You can wear a corsage lei on your chest just where your heart is supposed to be.

corsage lei

4. Hili
The Hili lei is a type of lei shaped like a traditional lei or a Haku lei. However, the difference is that the Hili lei is made from one single plant material. This is the type of lei that ti leaves are used on as they are braided together to form a lei. However, you can still decorate a Hili lei with blossoms to make it look more colorful.

traditional leis