Maʻo Hau Hele – Hawaiʻi’s State Flower

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An endemic member of the hibiscus family, maʻo hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei and Hibiscus mokuleianus) – the green traveling hau – only occurs naturally in Hawaiʻi Nei. On sprawling shrubs, bright lemon-yellow blooms, up to about 6 inches in diameter, punctuate its surroundings, usually dryish leeward lowlands. Two subspecies survive in the wild, and one, formerly found on Molokaʻi, is extinct.

Photo: Dyed Muslim
Strip of muslin dyed with H. brackenridgei. Yellow from flowers cooked in water, while blue-grey resulted from wood ash added to the same dye, causing its pH to change.

Maʻo hau hele is endangered, but luckily is easily grown, even in ma uka rain forests. Those who practice the arts of waiohoʻoluʻu, dyeing kapa or fabric, have found that flowers of each subspecies produce slightly different shades of blue-green.

Although in 1988 maʻo hau hele was designated our State Flower, it’s rare to see it amongst city buildings. Perhaps thatʻs because of its endangered status, along with regulations concerning its propagation and distribution. More common, not endangered, and easily grown endemic white hibiscuses with their red staminal columns are seemingly everywhere!

Photo: Dark-centered H. mokuleianus
Dark-centered H. mokuleianus used to dye kapa. – Photo: L. Raymond