Fragrant flowers add to May Day weekend

  • The heavy scent of the cinnamon gardenia is a fragrant addition to local gardens. Not often found in garden shops, but it is easily grown from seed. (Photo courtesy/Voltaire Moise)

May Day in Hawaii is Lei Day as well. We celebrate Lei Day on May 1, but continue with leis throughout the year. Now there is also a noticeable spring fever effect when it comes to local gardeners, because many flowers start heavy blooming at this time.

Have you ever noticed Hawaiian air smells better than most other places on the mainland? Visitors and residents returning from a trip often comment about the sweet heavy fragrance the moment they step off the plane. This is especially true now as plumeria, jasmine and other flowers begin their spring bloom. Most coffee trees bloomed earlier this year but some stragglers at higher elevations are adding fragrance along country roads. Ylang ylang (cananga oderata), mulang (Michelia champaca), lemon scented magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and many other flowering trees add to this melange.


Hawaii has a special magic. The scent of flowers perfumes the air and sets a tropical, romantic mood whether you live mauka or makai. By adding more flowering plants to your garden, you can combat unpleasant smells like car exhaust fumes or rubbish cans. There are many good choices. The scent of orange blossoms and, of course, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and tangerine blossoms all have delicious fragrance. During the longer days of summer, many species of ginger are in full bloom and in the evening white, yellow and rose flowered angel trumpets make for perfect garden romance.

But, there are many other less known and more varied plants that can add to our gardens. All the plants listed below have fragrant flowers. Some of them such as plumeria, night blooming jasmine, fragrant dracaena, gardenia and mock orange are equipped with fragrance so potent that it can fill every inch of garden air space and drift into the house as well. Others like the spider lily produce more subtle perfumes that usually won’t travel quite as far and are best appreciated at close range. There are dozens of species of ginger and let us not forget our native alahe’e and hoawa available at some nurseries.

One very striking shade lover is the brunfelsia. The shrub is a native of South America. Its scientific name is Brunfelsia calycina floribunda. It gets its common name, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, from the fact that the 2-inch tubular, flaring flowers are purple one day, violet the next, and almost white the next. They flower chiefly spring through fall, but may continue much of the year where conditions like warmth and humidity are ideal. There are several other species sometimes available at local nurseries.

The plant may grow as high as 10 feet in partial shade, but can be kept as low as 3 feet by pruning.

There are many kinds of jasmine as well as several other plants called by that name including star jasmine and orange jasmine (mock orange) that are not jasmines at all. There are several true jasmines that bloom with fragrant flowers. Jasminum ilicifolium and Jasminum multifolorum are two shrubs used as foundation plantings. They may also be grown as vines and will bloom more profusely. Jasminum sambac is the one we call pikake.

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is a vine. Tie this plant to a post, fence, or some other support and it will climb. Pinch out the viny branch tips and it will cover the ground. The clusters of star-shaped, white flowers contrast nicely with shiny dark green leaves. This vine is sometimes referred to as maile jasmine because the leaves resemble maile.

Mock orange (Murraya paniculata) or Orange Jasmine is a member of the citrus family and is an attractive evergreen shrub or small tree with glossy green pinnately-compound leaves. The white, very fragrant flowers are produced at intervals throughout the year, followed by clusters of red ovoid fruit. It is a vigorous grower and may be used as a small tree, an informal high hedge or screen, or may be trimmed to a formal shape.

Night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) produces flowers with a powerful scent. A single plant per garden should be plenty. These evergreen shrubs grow 6 to 8 feet tall or more and bloom off and on throughout the year.

The ever popular plumeria should be found in most gardens, but a close relative is rare. It is known as tabernaemontana or cinnamon gardenia and was originally introduced by Paul Weissich in 1960 from Africa. Flowers are produced all during the year and have a cinnamon fragrance. The odor is delicate, but one or two flowers perfume the whole garden. Close relatives are ervatamia (Crepe Jasmine) cerbera, stemmadenia and oleander.


Next weekend is Mothers Day, so you might consider locally made perfumes or candles utilizing Hawaiian fragrances as gifts.

A living gift is always popular. Stop by your local garden shops and nurseries to find these and many others for garden fragrance. A great reference book to help you chose plants for your garden and their care is “Sunset’s New Western Garden Book,” available at most garden shops.

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