In lei, bouquets, table arrangements, and hair adornments, flowers reflect the love we kama‘aina 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 three flower farms to learn about flowers introduced from other exotic places around the world that have become synonymous with the Islands.
Hawai‘i Island: Akatsuka Orchid Gardens
In 1974, Mitsuo Akatsuka established Akatsuka Orchid Gardens on the highway leading to and from popular Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. It’s known for cultivating premium orchids, its specialty being the showy cattleya often used in corsages.
Mitsuo’s younger brother, Moriyasu, served as general manager until 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 and, at age 71, he’s still at the nursery four days a week developing more.
Browse in the Orchid Showroom, an 8,000-square-foot oasis displaying anthuriums, bromeliads, tillandsia, and more than 500 orchids in full bloom. Highlights also include a mini Zen garden, a “living wall” of pretty foliage plants, an exhibit of orchids in various stages of growth, and interactive video stations offering tips on orchid propagation.
The guided 45-minute Orchid Farm Tour and Tasting includes time in the showroom and three of the nursery’s 13 greenhouses, where participants learn about the growth and care of the elegant bloom that hails from tropical areas of Asia and Australia. They can also sample ice cream made with poha berries grown on-site and plant a young orchid to take home.
Info: 11-3051 Volcano Road, Volcano. (808) 967-8234; akatsukaorchid.com.
Orchid Farm Tour and Tasting: adults, $30 (kama‘aina, $25). Reservations recommended.
Maui: Ali‘i Kula Lavender
The Upcountry flower farm that the late gardening enthusiast Ali‘i Chang acquired in the early 1990s has blossomed into 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 4,000 feet up the slopes of Haleakala Volcano.
The farm grows nine varieties of the fragrant flower year-round. From late June to late September, 20 varieties brighten the terraced farm with hues ranging from white, yellow, and blue to pink, amethyst, and deep violet. Protea, hydrangea, succulents, bromeliads, olive trees, and small orchards of citrus, apples, peaches, pears, and plums add their beauty to the scene.
Visitors can take a self-guided walking flower 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 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 offers an array of lavender-infused products, including tea, scones, soap, lotion, shampoo, sachets, honey, jam, jelly, cookies, coffee, and dark chocolate bars.
Info: 1100 Waipoli Road, Kula. (808) 878-3004; aliikulalavender.com. Admission, $3. At press time, guided tours, craft classes, and special activities were on hold.
Moloka‘i: Molokai Plumerias
In 1982, beekeeper Dick Wheeler moved from North Dakota to Moloka‘i to begin a job managing a honey company. The processing building was on 10 acres in Kaunakakai, where plumerias, or frangipani, once flourished. When he and his wife, Aome, arrived, only about 40 trees remained—barely alive because of neglect. Still, it was enough for them to envision the possibilities, and five years later, in partnership with Wheeler’s best friend, they bought the property and Molokai Plumerias was born.
Today, some 1,500 plumeria trees fill the orchard with fragrance and color from March through October. Most are the bright yellow Celadine variety; there are also several kinds of pinks, reds, whites, and “rainbows.”
A guided one-hour flower farm tour begins with a plumeria primer shared during a stroll among the trees. The flower is named after French botanist Charles Plumier (1646–1704) and is native to Mexico, Central America, and Venezuela. It’s called melia in Hawaiian and is related to oleander and periwinkle. Doctor William Hillebrand (1821–1886), Kamehameha V’s personal physician and an avid amateur botanist, introduced the first plumeria cultivar to Hawai‘i in 1860, a vivid Celadine.
Participants then pick plumeria for the lei they’ll make in the shade of a kiawe tree and proudly wear when they leave. If kept chilled in a cooler atop a layer of ice or a frozen gel pack and misted frequently with cold water, their hand-crafted emblem of aloha can look lovely for a week.
Info: 1342 Maunaloa Highway, Kaunakakai. (808) 553-3391; molokaiplumerias.com.
Guided tour, $25 per person. Reservations are encouraged at least 24 hours in advance.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi’s best stress-buster is picking plumeria and stringing lei.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.