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What Is Hawaii's State Flower?

By April S. Kenyon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hawaii’s state flower is the native yellow hibiscus. In the early 1920s, all hibiscus varieties were considered the territorial flower of Hawaii. When statehood was attained in 1959, the legislature included many of the state symbols Hawaii had selected in the revised state laws. At that time, all varieties and colors of hibiscus were included as the official state flower. In 1988, it was decided and documented that the yellow hibiscus, which is native to the Hawaiian Islands, would officially serve as Hawaii’s state flower.

The native yellow hibiscus features five bright-yellow layered petals with a stamen extending from the bright pink or red center of the flower. While many cultivated varieties can be found worldwide, Hawaii’s state flower is primarily found growing in tropical climates. It is most commonly used as an ornamental flower, though it may also be used for various other purposes. Hibiscus is also used in hair products, herbal tea, and to make paper.

In traditional Hawaiian culture, the hibiscus, also called pua aloalo, serves as a symbol of power and respect. It often is used to represent old royalty. The hibiscus is typically given as a gift of honor to tourists, state officials, and other visitors to the state. Hibiscus flowers are commonly used in Hawaiian leis as a symbol of respect and admiration. While Hawaii’s state flower is specifically the yellow hibiscus, a variety of colors are often used in Hawaiian leis.

The native yellow hibiscus can be found growing profusely throughout the Hawaiian Islands. There is some contention among the locals as to the specific flower used to represent each individual island. While most agree that the native yellow hibiscus represents the Hawaiian Islands as a whole, tourists quickly learn that each separate island also claims an individual color of hibiscus to represent it. Some locals may argue that the particular color used to represent their island is actually Hawaii’s state flower.

Many locals desire for their specific island to be recognized as a separate state, so many of the islands began to act as their own state and adopted specific colors of hibiscus or other flowers to represent them. The island of Niihau claims the white hibiscus, Kauai recognizes purple, the big island of Hawaii claims the red hibiscus, and some islands selected a different flower entirely as their floral emblem. For example, Maui uses the Pink Cottage Rose to represent it, Lanai claims the Yellow and Orange Air Plant, and Kahoolawe selected the Beach Heliotrope as its flower.

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Discussion Comments

By Fa5t3r — On Jun 15, 2014

I was actually surprised when I went to Hawaii how little people seem to drink hibiscus tea. I lived in West Africa for a while and they drank hibiscus tea all the time and would also freeze it into a kind of sweet ice treat.

I definitely saw it while I was in Hawaii but it didn't seem to be a traditional drink so much as one that naturally sprang up because there were so many people willing to buy it.

By umbra21 — On Jun 14, 2014

@pastanaga - There are some kind of hibiscus that can survive in temperate areas as long as they are cared for. Or you could try growing some in a greenhouse, as they don't really get that large. It's actually the national flower for a few places, but different varieties.

I've also heard that some people use it to represent whether or not they are single or taken, depending on which ear they use to hold the flower.

By pastanaga — On Jun 13, 2014

It was one of my favorite parts of visiting Hawaii when we were given flower garlands with hibiscus. I didn't know Hawaii had a state flower, but if I had to guess it would either be this one or plumeria, because those are the two I most strongly associate with the islands.

I had no idea there was such a beautiful variety of different hibiscus until I went there, either. I wish that it grew in colder places as well.

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