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5 Hawai‘i flower farms blooming with beauty

Drink in the beauty of blooms from around the world on a tour of a Hawai'i flower farm. Photo by Hana Tropicals/Caroline Judd/Shelby Webster

Is there anything more soothing than lavender, more refreshing than the sweet scent of plumeria, or more beautiful than the orchid?

These flowers, used across the Islands in lei, bouquets, table arrangements, and hair adornments, reflect the love we kama‘āina have for nature and a lifestyle inextricably linked to it. We observe every important occasion with a profusion of flowers, and we often wear and display them “just because.”

Tour these 5 flower farms to learn about flora introduced from around the world that have become synonymous with Hawai’i and true aloha spirit.

Hawai‘i Island

1. Akatsuka Orchid Gardens

Moriyasu and Takeshi Akatsuka holding orchids.

Moriyasu Akatsuka (right) and his son, Takeshi, at their eponymous nursery. Photo courtesy Akatsuka Orchid Gardens

In 1974, Mitsuo Akatsuka established Akatsuka Orchid Gardens on the highway leading to and from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. It’s known for cultivating premium orchids, specializing in the showy cattleya often used in corsages.

Mitsuo’s younger brother, Moriyasu, was the general manager before he bought the business from Mitsuo in 1991. Today, Moriyasu focuses on producing new cattleya hybrids while his son, Takeshi, oversees operations. Moriyasu has created some 20,000 hybrids thus far. Now in his early 70s, he’s still at the nursery 4 days a week developing more.

Most orchid varieties bloom just twice a year, usually in the spring and fall, but the flowers can last up to 3 months. At Akatsuka, workers tend to about 200,000 orchid plants—some babies, others close to maturity, and the rest at every phase in between—in 13 greenhouses.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, visitors can browse in the Orchid Showroom, the only greenhouse open to the public. The 5,000-square-foot oasis displays anthuriums, bromeliads, and more than 500 orchids in full bloom. Also of note are a mini Zen Garden and a “living wall” of pretty plants.

A rare, perfectly symmetrical Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum that Moriyasu bought for a song in Thailand in 1984 is on display during its blooming season from May through June. It’s now worth $20,000.

You may also like: A local’s 3-day Hawai‘i Island road trip


2. Ali‘i Kula Lavender

Visitor strolling through the Ali‘i Kula Lavender fields.

Enjoy the beauty and fragrance of lavender on a stroll through the fields at Ali‘i Kula Lavender. Photo by Amanda Emmes

The Upcountry flower farm that the late gardening enthusiast Ali‘i Chang acquired in the early 1990s is one of Maui’s most popular visitor attractions. Although lavender traces its roots to the Mediterranean, it has settled happily in the cool, dry climate of the 13½-acre property located 4,000 feet up the slopes of Haleakalā Volcano.

The Ali‘i Kula Lavender farm grows 9 varieties of the fragrant flower year-round. From late June to late September, 4 additional varieties brighten the terraced farm with white, yellow, blue, pink, amethyst, and deep-violet hues. Protea, hydrangea, succulents, bromeliads, olive trees, and small orchards of citrus, apples, peaches, pears, and plums add to the beautiful scene.

Visitors can take a self-guided farm tour, pausing to enjoy spectacular views that stretch from Wailea on Maui’s south side to Haiku on the north. Sturdy shoes are recommended; be aware that some paths are not wheelchair- or stroller-accessible.

Many consider lavender to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and depression. The gift shop sells lavender-infused products such as tea, scones, soap, lotion, shampoo, sachets, honey, jam, jelly, cookies, coffee, and dark-chocolate bars. Farm admission, $3.

You may also like: Reasons to visit Maui now

3. Entabeni Gardens

Guests at Entabeni Gardens picnic table.

Guests gather for a picnic at Entabeni Gardens. Photo courtesy Entabeni Gardens

At Entabeni Gardens, nature shines with all her glorious imperfections, which is what owners Michael and Terry Kristiansen love about it. Plenty of thought went into the planting of some 400 varieties of plants, trees, and shrubs, but the couple’s 6¼-acre property is not impeccably manicured. There is beauty, they say, even in gnarled branches and curled petals.

True to its name (a Zulu word meaning “a place on the hill with a view”), Entabeni has breathtaking panoramas of the Pacific and the eastern ridge of Haleakalā volcano.

Michael, a horticulturist, garden designer, and a former director of Honolulu Botanical Gardens, grew up in Durban, South Africa, where his playmates were members of the Zulu tribe. He, Terry, and their son Matt share an affinity for plants and a gift for growing them.

Tayabak vine at Entabeni Gardens.

A turquoise jade vine (native to the Philippines and known locally as tayabak) in bloom at Entabeni Gardens. Photo courtesy Entabeni Gardens

Flaunting unique claw-shaped flowers, the turquoise jade vine often intrigues tour groups, who are surprised to learn that the gardenia belongs to the coffee family. At a stop on a recent tour, ladies happily tucked fragrant yellow ginger in their hair.

Every season, things are in bloom and ready to be plucked for a snack—perhaps liliko‘i, tangerine, or star fruit. Visitors are welcome to linger, enjoy a picnic, and marvel at the Kristiansens’ self-sustaining, off-the-grid lifestyle, which relies on produce from the land, power from the sun, and water from a catchment-filtration system.

Hour-long tours are available daily and cost $25 per person ($20 for groups of 6 or more and kama‘āina); free for children under 16.

You may also like: The road to Hāna: An insider’s guide to must-see stops

4. Hana Tropicals

Hana Tropicals flower garden.

More than 50 flower species are grown at the Hana Tropicals farm. Photo by Hana Tropicals/Caroline Judd/Shelby Webster

On his 58th birthday in 2005, Ian Ballantyne found the ideal present while surfing the internet: a tropical flower farm in Hāna that was up for sale. The retired engineer had long dreamed of farming, and the timing seemed right. “Let’s be farmers!” he told his wife, Krista Fuglestad.

The couple had frequently vacationed on Maui, but they had never been to the lush, remote hamlet of Hāna. They fell in love with the area after a single visit, purchased Hana Tropicals (which sits on more than 400 acres, 12 of which are farmed), and moved to Hāna from the Bay Area in California.

It was a huge lifestyle change for the couple, who had lived in big cities for decades. For one, Hāna is 45 winding miles from the nearest supermarket. But Ballantyne and Fuglestad don’t regret the decision that has taken them on an amazing journey.

More than 50 species of flowers flourish on their farm—from the familiar anthurium and bird of paradise to the black bat flower.

On a 60- to 90-minute tour, guests learn about sustainable and regenerative practices, walk a labyrinth in the middle of a rainforest, and see a cluster of beehives (in addition to making honey, bees play a key role in the flowers’ pollination). A highlight for many participants is the free take-away bouquet.

All tours are private and available on Wednesday afternoons; $200 for up to 6 people. Ask about prices for couples or groups of 7 or 8 (the maximum); kama‘āina receive a 10% discount.

You may also like: Shop local at these 7 farmers markets in Hawai‘i


5. Little Plumeria Farms

Clark Little, Jim Little, and Dane Little at Little Plumeria Farms.

The Little family of Little Plumeria Farms: big-wave photographer Clark; his horticulturist father, Jim; and Clark's son, Dane. Photo courtesy Little Plumeria Farms

Growing up, when he wasn’t at the beach, famed wave photographer Clark Little helped with planting, watering, fertilizing, and other tasks at Little Plumeria Farms. His father, Jim Little, a self-taught horticulturist, started the farm on 20 acres of former sugarcane land above Hale‘iwa town in 1973.

Over time, Clark fell hard for the beauty of both waves and plumerias. “No two waves and no two flowers are exactly alike,” he says. “They’re incredible examples of nature’s art, and when I look at them, I get the same feeling of pure awe.”

These days, Clark devotes much of his time to his family’s farm. About 5,000 plumeria trees flourish there, including roughly 100 varieties from around the globe and the rare and unique “JLs,” 100-plus named hybrids that Jim created (reputedly the largest such collection in the world).

During hour-long tours that Clark or his son, Dane, typically lead, visitors come to understand the Littles’ fascination with the flower. They’ll learn that each type has a distinctive fragrance, color, pattern, shape, and size.

Clark’s favorite, the JL Metallica, is a silver-and-purple bloom with an aroma reminiscent of grape Kool-Aid. “You never know what you’re going to get when you propagate plumerias,” he says. “We have hybrids that smell like cinnamon, coconut, lemon, and baby powder.”

Visitors can take a bit of the beauty home with them, too—if not a fresh lei or a cutting, then a bag, T-shirt, or other souvenir featuring photos taken by Clark and Dane. Tours are available daily (except Sundays and Wednesdays) from April 1 through October 31. $45 for adults; kama‘āina receive a 20% discount.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi’s best stress-buster is picking plumeria and stringing lei.

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