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What Is the State Flower of Hawaii? History & Conservation

close up of a yellow hibiscus flower

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different kinds of flowers growing and thriving in Hawaii, and at least 21 can only be found in that state. It’s why most people imagine many colorful flowers when thinking of Hawaii. With so many flowers growing in the state, you might wonder what the official state flower happens to be. Hawaii has designated the yellow hibiscus as its official state flower. If you’re interested in learning more about this interesting flower and how it came to represent the state of Hawaii, read on!

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About Hawaii’s State Flower

Native to Hawaii, the yellow hibiscus is listed as an endangered species. The Hawaiian name for the flower is Ma’ohauhele. You won’t find these flowers growing in the wild anywhere but in Hawaii (where it’s still rare), but some people grow them in pots in agricultural zones 9 to 11. The yellow hibiscus grows best in dry regions near the ocean but can grow up to 3,000 feet in elevation.

This flower is characterized by five brightly colored petals that are slightly layered. It has a long stamen that shoots out from its center. Its stalk is usually thick and strong, making it hardy enough to withstand different weather patterns throughout the year. These plants can grow into “trees” as tall as 30 feet in height, but they can be maintained as shrubs that can grow anywhere from 2 to 6 feet in height, depending on the growing vessel. Yellow hibiscus flowers are typically used in lei making, although the flowers for this purpose are commercially produced and not picked from the wild.

two beautiful yello hibiscus flowers
Photo Credit: Hans, Pixabay

How the State’s Flower Was Chosen

In the 1920s, indigenous Hawaiians adopted hibiscus flowers of all colors as their official territorial flowers. After that, many people considered the red hibiscus as the state flower, which is why it is depicted on so many postcards, calendars, and other materials relating to Hawaii. However, in 1988, it was decided that Hawaii would adopt only the yellow hibiscus as the official state flower. While the Hawaiians chose the hibiscus in general as their flower because it represents royalty and respect, it is not clear how or why the yellow hibiscus was singled out to represent the state of Hawaii.

The Official Flowers of Each Hawaiian Island

In addition to an official state flower, each island in Hawaii has designated a flower to represent them in an official capacity. Most of these flowers are utilized in the leis made on each island, providing the islands with a fun way to differentiate themselves from one another.

Here are the major islands’ official flowers:
  • Oahu: The Ilimagrown as shrubs or ground cover, yellow in color, and may have velvety hairs
  • Hawaii (Big Island): Ohia Lehuanative to Hawaii, grows on trees, and comes in red, yellow, and white
  • Maui: The Lokelani — bright pink, fragrant, native to Asia, and introduced to Hawaii in the 1800s
  • Kauai: The Mokihana — aromatic, does well at low elevations, grows as a shrub, and is utilized in lei-making

You may notice that an island’s representative flower is included in the lei that may be presented to you during your vacation. If you live in Hawaii, you can grow these flowers and create your leis to help represent all the islands that make up the state.

yellow hibiscus flower
Photo Credit: PetraWa, Pixabay

What to Do If You See a Yellow Hibiscus in Hawaii

Unless you live in Hawaii or are visiting the state, you won’t have to worry about coming across one growing wildly. They’re even hard to find in Hawaii because they simply can’t compete with all the other habitation. However, if you do come across one during an excursion in Hawaii, you should stay well away from it and admire it from afar. These flowers are endangered, and every single one that is growing in the wild is crucial. Never touch or brush up against a yellow hibiscus plant, to ensure that it does not get damaged.

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Final Thoughts

The yellow hibiscus plant is beautiful, and it is a shame that they are so rare to find in the wild. Luckily, they can be cultivated and grown in landscape designs. As the official state flower, the Hawaiian yellow hibiscus deserves a front seat when it comes to a visual representation of the state.

Featured Image Credit: manfredrichter, Pixabay


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