Discover the Beauty and Meaning Behind Hawaiian Lei Flowers: A Guide to the Traditional Symbol of Aloha (updated 2023)

Fresh Hawaiian flower lei embody the spirit and warmth of Aloha and giving a beautiful lei to someone you love. That’s why the lei greeting is so powerful and starts off a sense of place in arriving or even departing from Hawaii. The Hawaiian flower lei represents a powerful symbol of the islands and affection for loved ones, remembrance and the aloha spirit with Hawaiian lei flowers.

Giving and receiving a flower lei in Hawaii is a treasured experience for the giver or receiver and used for so many different kinds of events and celebrations.

Hawaiian flower Lei

Hawaiian Lei flower FAQ

What is the meaning of giving a flower lei in Hawaii?

The meaning of lei giving in Hawaii – leis are given for a variety of reasons with the most common being love, honor, tribute, friendship and peace. More common in celebrating a special event or milestone, giving a Hawaiian lei is a symbol to mark and share that special occasion. 

Did you know that Hawaiian children are also referred to as lei and many old and new songs refer to this type of tribute and imagery?

Are flower leis actually Hawaiian?

Yes, leis in Polynesia were originally worn by the ancient Polynesians as a custom and celebration. In ancient Hawaii, natives wore lei to show their ranks and royalty and as a form of honor to each other and their gods.

How to wear a flower lei

Lei’s should be draped easily across the shoulders and hang evenly from the back and the front in an easy and relaxed fashion.

What is the meaning of giving lei in Hawaii?

A little history and custom of Hawaiian lei giving

Lei were originally used by Polynesians and some Asian cultures as part of a custom to give to someone as a sign of affection. Ancient native Hawaiian people wore lei as a symbol of their rank and royalty or as an honor to their god or to each other. Native Hawaiians that came from Polynesia continued the tradition of wearing lei making and wearing them for a special occasion.

Here’s a little lei giving instructions below

A little history and custom of lei giving and making flower lei

Lei meaning and giving Lei in Hawaii

From ancient to modern times the customary giving of lei represents greetings, a farewell, congratulation, friendship, appreciation, recognition or some tribute to the recipient. Today giving a lei for common events or occasions including weddings and bridal showers, graduation ceremonies, anniversaries, funerals, retirement and even school or social functions is what lei meaning and celebrations cover.

Although receiving leis are the most popular experience in visiting Hawaii lei represents so much more to Hawaiian culture and traditional Hawaiian leis offered as a popular expression of friendship, tribute or love for someone in your life.

Giving Lei in Hawaii

Hawaiian Leis and celebrating Lei day in Hawaii

The first of May in Hawaii is called Lei Day to celebrate the making, wearing and giving of lei to someone special in your life. This tradition was started in 1927 with the saying “ May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” was coined and even a song created called “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” by Ruth and Leonard Hawk in 1927.

Lei day in Hawaii
Lei day in Hawaii – lei draping of King David Kalakaua

Lei day celebrations and meaning in Hawaii

Hawaiian Lei flowers that are commonly used

There are a variety of materials to make lei and the typical string base using raffia, yarn, fish line or even dental wax for stringing and the popular flowers used for lei garlands include:

  • Carnations –  Ponimo’I in Hawaii was originally brought by the Missionaries with women wearing white and men wearing the red carnation
  • Plumeria – also known as Melia in Hawaiian or Frangipani is a five star like petal flower with a lovely tropical scent and an assorted variety of colors from white, yellow, orange, pink and deep reds
  • Arabian Jasmine or Pikake as they are called in Hawaii were originally brought to Hawaii by the Chinese immigrants and the flower is a mild and sweet scent that is used mostly in weddings and special events
  • Roses – Or Lokelani rose grown on the islands, roses are popular to use on lei as an accent flower in a variety of colors to match an occasion
  • Orchids (okika) Due to their sturdiness and beauty, orchids are popular to use with the white and purple dendrobium variety used for making an orchid type of lei
  • Ginger – typical Micronesian or Malaysian ginger flowers area used with a strong, seductive smell and used primarily for anniversaries, birthdays or special events
  • Stephanotis – Pua Male in Hawaiian is called the Hawaiian wedding flower with its aromatic and sweet scent. Pua Male translates into “Marry Flower” which is appropriate for this type of Jasmine flower and is the lei of choice for weddings

Flowers and materials used to make lei

Each island has a Local island color and flower

There are many flowers for leis that are used but also specific flowers used on each island and representing that island’s official flower. What flowers are leis are made of typically the flowers that are in season or available year-round.

Lei day is celebrated on all the Hawaiian islands and each island is also symbolized by a specific color and flower of lei and what flowers are leis are made of:

  • Big Island – Red or the Ohia Lehua flower
  • Maui – Pink and the Lokelani rose
  • Lanai – Orange with Kauna’oa
  • Oahu – Yellow with the gold ‘Ilima
  • Moloka’I – Green with Kukui
  • Kaho’olawe – Gray or Silver with the Hinahina
  • Kauai – purple with the Mokihaa
  • Ni’ihau – White with  Pupu o Ni’ihau (shells)

Local island colors and flowers
Local island colors and flowers – Maui pink and the Lokelani rose

How about going to an actual farm to make a plumeria lei?

Want to make your own Hawaiian lei at home?

You can even make your own lei to celebrate a special occasion or person in your life. Check out these easy to follow lei making videos below for inspiration.

Making a lei is a special experience and wrapping your family experiences into a backbone or base into this lei and that is one of the reasons of how special the tradition of making, giving and receiving a flower lei.

Check out this fantastic lei making history

A primer on lei making with beautiful paper and straw lei or actual flower lei

Making a simple ti leaf lei

Conclusion on Hawaiian Lei Flower

It is fun to make a lei and the lei experience with others – to see the finished lei and then finally giving it to a loved one, seeing their expressions and sharing your aloha. A Hawaiian lei flower offered or received is always a treasured moment to share a unique spirit of Aloha on the islands.

Check out these other Hawaii topics

A Hawaii travel guide primer

Hawaiian Sunrises and Sunsets

Best Beaches in Hawaii

Fun and interesting facts about Hawaii

Plant a garden in Hawaii

Popular Hawaiian dishes you need to try

Traditional Hawaiian food favorite dishes

Farmers markets in Hawaii

How to eat cheap in Hawaii

Comfort foods of Hawaii

Virtual tours of Hawaii

Enjoyed the post – save it for later

Fresh Hawaiian Lei flowers  (the meaning, celebrations and types of lei flowers used)
Fresh Hawaiian Lei flowers  (the meaning, celebrations and types of lei flowers used)
Fresh Hawaiian Lei flowers  (the meaning, celebrations and types of lei flowers used)

Have you visited Hawaii and received a Hawaiian Lei?

Have you visited Hawaii and received a Hawaiian Lei Flower?

What did you think about receiving a traditional Hawaiian lei and giving or receiving a lei in Hawaii? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for checking out this post on Hawaiian Lei Flower. Hope the post was informative and a must read article – if so please do share it with any of the social media buttons around the page. This post may have affiliate related links to brand offers which helps our site keep operating – we appreciate any purchases through this link and your supporting This Hawaii Life.

We love shares - Mahalo!


  1. Virginia

    I want to recive Lei on Maui , what nee to do?

  2. Rick

    A friend of a friend came to visit in Kona and, at the last minute, my friend asked me to pick up her friend at the airport. With no time to spare, I picked up the girl and then then took her to Hale Halewai where the plumeria trees provided the necessary flowers for us to make a couple of leis. Being her first ever visit to Hawai’i, I remember how thrilled she was to actually take part in the making of this customary gift and beamed the rest of the day wearing them.

    • emorata

      That’s sweet and thoughtful, also a very special way to enjoy a lei made by a friend.



  1. How to make a lei - This Hawaii Life - […] Hawaiian flowers for lei making […]
  2. Visiting Hawaii in July - This Hawaii Life - […] All about Hawaiian Lei Flower […]
  3. What are hawaiian leis? - FAQGuide - […] Source: […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.