Plumerias are named after a French Botonist, Charles Plumier, who first catalogued the New World flora in the 17th century. Many people know plumerias by the name frangipani as when explorers first arrived in the New World and smelled the flower, it reminded them of a popular perfume in Europe called frangipani. Plumerias range in colour from pastel yellow to orange and fuchsia.
The lei custom was introduced to the Hawaiian islands by early Polynesian voyagers. Leis were made of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts and even animal bones and teeth. In ancient Hawaii, opposing chiefs would visit a Heiau (temple) and symbolically intertwine the green Maile vine into a lei and its completion officially established peace between the groups.
Maile, a long, scented vine, was one of the earlier lei-making materials; the vines leaved and stems were intertwined into an open-ended style. Orchids, plumeria and lehua blossom are the most popular flowers for Hawaiian leis today.
Leis traditionally express love, respect, congratulations, reverent and welcome, however different colours and flowers have different meanings. Orchids (purple, green and white) lays are often given to visitors to welcome them to Hawai’i and are also given to express thanks. The ilima flower (orange, red or brown) leis symbolise love. Green, maile ti-leaf lais symbolise admiration, appreciation and respect; they are often given on graduations, weddings, anniversaries and memorials. Kukiu nut leis were once a symbol of royalty and are now given to show respect or appreciation. Carnations (pink, white or red) leis are often exchanged at weddings or anniversary parties and symbolise love.
Hawaiians abide by certain rules of etiquette when it comes to Hawaiian lei greetings. A lei should never be refused and a person is considered to be rude if they remove a lei in the presence of the lei giver. Leis should be gently draped around the wearer’s shoulders, with part of the lei hanging down in the front and back.
Located on the leeward coast of the island of Moloka’i is Molokai Plumerias, a plumeria farm. Tour guides take visitors to tour of the farm and participate in workshops to learn to thread plumerias onto string to make leis and to weave and twist maile to make ti-leaf leis.