The Hawaiian Lei Flower
This is my site Written by Wayne on March 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

Plumeria or Lei Flower is the most beautiful flower that you will find in Hawaii. It is used in most leis that are given to visitors as they arrive in Hawaii. It is, however, not native to Hawaii but to Mexico like the Monkey Pod Tree. The flowers are found in colors of white, yellow, pink, red, and multiple pastels. In Hawaii one of the best places to view plumeria is at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden – a 60-acre basin inside Koko Crater on the eastern end of the island of Oahu. 


Plumerias can grow to be large shrubs or even small trees in mild areas like Florida. In tropical regions, Plumeria may reach a height of 40 to 50 feet. Their widely spaced thick succulent branches are round or pointed, and have long leather, fleshy leaves in clusters near the branch tips. Leaves tend to fall in early 

Winter since they are sensitive to cold. Without their leaves and flowers, the trees are very ugly!

p2130054Fortunately, the large leathery leaves appear in Spring and are up to 20 inches long and 3 inches wide depending on species or selection. Medium green and oblong in shape, they are arranged alternately on the squat branches. The leaves cluster at the branch ends where they form the perfect backdrop for the plant’s feature attraction – deliciously fragrant, delicately sculpted flowers.

dsc00986tIn  early Summer through the early Fall months, when very fragrant clusters of showy, waxy flowers appear the real reason for growing Plumerias become apparent. There is absolutely nothing like the sweet fragrance of Plumeria in flower, with fragrances of jasmine, citrus, spices, gardenia, and other indescribable scents. Flowering can last up to 3 months at a time producing new blooms everyday. Once picked, a bloom can last for several days without wilting if kept in water. These flowers are treasured by everyone, young and old and have become a symbol of Hawaii.

For those of us not living in Hawaii or Florida, Plumeria can be grown in containers, making beautiful potted plants for the patio. In milder climates, plumeria can be grown outdoors in the ground, where they make a small beautiful landscape tree. When the temperature, cools, they may be carefully dug up stored over winter in a heated basement or garage where temperatures are kept above freezing. Once the temperatures rise they can be brought out and planted again. We have been told that they will begin to grow as if nothing happened.

For container planting use a coarse, well draining potting soil, similar to what would be used for palm trees. You should consider using a large container on a plant dolly to make the job easier moving indoors as Winter approaches.

Water Plumerias deeply, but infrequently, let soil dry out somewhat before watering again. Begin to reduce the frequency of watering in mid-October, as the cool season approaches. Stop watering after the plant enters its ugly faze and has gone dormant. Resume watering in the Spring as new growth begins.

Plumerias should be fed with a high nitrogen fertilizer beginning in spring when growth begins. To encourage the most blooms, a switch to a high phosphorous fertilizer in early May and fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks through the end of August. Although the branches are muscular in appearance they tend to be weak and easily broken.

In addition to the seven or so Plumeria species, there are dozens of cultivars available that differ in flower color and size and all of them are spectacular. Some of the largest Plumeria collections are actually grown in cold northern climates in greenhouses. The flowers are truly gorgeous and well worth the extra effort.


Tips of the Month

Here is a simple how to list for making your own lei:


Jar of Vaseline

3″ or 4″ Upholstery needle,

4 to 8 Pound Fishing Line or strong thread.

50 to 60 Plumeria Flowers

One 1 Gallon Zip-lock bag

Measuring Tape

1. Gather the flowers early in the morning and for best results use Plumeria flowers that have a thick waxy feel. Flowers that are thick and waxy will keep for two to three days.  

2. If you choose mixed colored flowers string them up in a pattern.

3. Measure and cut the string at about 48 inches.  

4. Thread the string through the needle’s eye, and either pull the string back or crimp it in place with pliers. Tie anything around the other end to keep the flowers from coming off.  

5. Dip the needle in the jar of Vaseline and thread the first flower going into the eye of the flower.  Slide each flower onto the string one at a time so as not to tear the flowers.  Re-dip the needle into the Vaseline as needed.

6 Once you’re finished stringing the flowers, cut the string from the needle and tie the ends.  Then cut off excess string from the knot area.  

7. Place the lei into the one gallon bag with a little water, close the zip-lock part way, then blow into the bag filling it full of air and zip it shut. 

8.  Store the lei in the refrigerator until you want to wear it.


Flower of the Month

cid-41c9623a-9e3e-48f7-b7aa-88239be5bbe3localPlumeria rubra ‘Lei Rainbow’ is a beautiful red to yellow tropical flowering  plant which can be grown in full sun to partial shade. While it is hardy to only zone 11, it can be easily grown as a container plant.

The flowers are very fragrant, attracting bees, butterflies, and even birds.  Ideal for cut flowers and of course leis.


Featured Web Site

The Dean Conklin Plumeria Grove is part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens system.  It is located in  Koko Crater along the eastern side of Oahu. The plumeria trees surround the entrance to the garden and extend along the trail that lead to the crater. The plumeria  trees are planted close to each other which creates a beautiful rainbow effect when they are in bloom. The end of April appears to be a peak flowering time for these trees.  

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Modified: April 4, 2009 at 1:55 pm GMT-0800

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