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Planning a Garden With White Tropical Flowers From Hawaii

Updated on September 19, 2017
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Part-time farmer, part-time traveler, Viet Doan lives in Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii with his partner and a lazy old cat.

Clockwise from top left: Anthurium, lilikoi passion flower, white ginger, 'Angel Wings' swamp hibiscus.
Clockwise from top left: Anthurium, lilikoi passion flower, white ginger, 'Angel Wings' swamp hibiscus. | Source

Hawaii is famously known for its exotic flora – an astounding variety of tropical flowers in every color, shade, and hue of the rainbow!

But the islands also have an abundance of flowers in simple, plain white color. From pure white to creamy white, these beautiful flowers grow everywhere: in the gardens and parks, on the beaches, in the rainforests, or along the roadsides. White tropical flowers come in a multitude of sizes and shapes; some are native to Hawaii, others are introduced species.

To compensate for the lack of brilliant colors (as often seen in tropical flowers), many white tropical flowers have developed a unique characteristic: they secrete intoxicating scents. The perfume is usually released during night time, making these flowers more “visible” and thus attracting insects for pollination.

Note: The photos in this gallery are photographed at the author’s property in lower coastal Puna on the Big Island (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 12b). The flowers featured here represent only a small percentage of white flowering species that can be found in Hawaii. There are many more! For example, orchids alone have hundreds of white color varieties.

Clockwise from top left: Sumatra lily, plumeria, pikake jasmine, white native Hawaiian hibiscus.
Clockwise from top left: Sumatra lily, plumeria, pikake jasmine, white native Hawaiian hibiscus. | Source
This lovely cattleya orchid has strong, spicy scent.
This lovely cattleya orchid has strong, spicy scent. | Source
Clockwise from top left: Mandevilla, bougainvillea, white torch ginger, 'Snow White' hibiscus.
Clockwise from top left: Mandevilla, bougainvillea, white torch ginger, 'Snow White' hibiscus. | Source
White periwinkles aglow in late afternoon light.
White periwinkles aglow in late afternoon light. | Source

White Flower Gardening Tips

  • White flowers provide a “cooling” effect for the garden, especially in Hawaii where it’s hot and humid year round!
  • They are a perfect choice for dark or shady corners of the garden because they magically lighten up those areas!
  • They appear to “glow” at dusk, especially when planting en masse, creating a dreamy and enchanted look for the garden in the evening.
  • They blend in well with flowers of any other colors, as well as the surrounding green foliage, because white is a neutral color.
  • When planted next to other brightly colored flowers (e.g. red, yellow, orange), white flowers reduce the intensity of those bright colors, thus giving the garden a more balanced, harmonious look.

Naupaka grows along the shorelines; its 'half-a-flower' shaped blossom tells a romantic Hawaiian legend.
Naupaka grows along the shorelines; its 'half-a-flower' shaped blossom tells a romantic Hawaiian legend. | Source
Extremely fragrant, creamy white pua kenikeni flowers turn orange as they age; very popular for making lei.
Extremely fragrant, creamy white pua kenikeni flowers turn orange as they age; very popular for making lei. | Source
Clockwise from top left: Gardenia, malabar chestnut flower, 'White Lady' thunbergia, pak-lan (also called white champaca).
Clockwise from top left: Gardenia, malabar chestnut flower, 'White Lady' thunbergia, pak-lan (also called white champaca). | Source
Coffee tree flowers have delicate, sweet scent.
Coffee tree flowers have delicate, sweet scent. | Source

Did You Know

White is the color most associated with light, purity, and peace.

In Western culture, white flowers symbolize virginity, devotion, and virtue; they are traditionally used in weddings (white roses) or religious celebrations (Easter lilies).

In Eastern culture, white is the color of mourning and white flowers are often seen at funerals as they symbolize reincarnation or new beginning.

Clockwise from top left: Coral swirl, dendrobium orchid, pentas, night-blooming jasmine.
Clockwise from top left: Coral swirl, dendrobium orchid, pentas, night-blooming jasmine. | Source
Turk's turban shrub in bloom, their tubular-shaped flowers have delightful fragrant.
Turk's turban shrub in bloom, their tubular-shaped flowers have delightful fragrant. | Source
Large, fragrant white Brugmansia (also called Angel's trumpet).
Large, fragrant white Brugmansia (also called Angel's trumpet). | Source
Daisy-like flowers of kukui or candlenut tree.
Daisy-like flowers of kukui or candlenut tree. | Source
Left: Night-blooming cereus.  Right: Night-blooming white water lilies.  Both species release incredible exotic perfume into the night air.
Left: Night-blooming cereus. Right: Night-blooming white water lilies. Both species release incredible exotic perfume into the night air. | Source
Clockwise from top left: 'Forbidden fruit of India' gardenia (gloriously scented!), crepe ginger (grows wild in Hawaii), impatiens, climbing star jasmine.
Clockwise from top left: 'Forbidden fruit of India' gardenia (gloriously scented!), crepe ginger (grows wild in Hawaii), impatiens, climbing star jasmine. | Source

The author planted many white flowers in his garden. His favorite is the elegant white ginger.

All photos were taken by the author with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone 6.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2016 Viet Doan (punacoast)

White ginger loves moist, humus-rich soil. They are prolific on the rainy windward side of the Big Island. The flowers have wonderful smell and are popular for making lei.
White ginger loves moist, humus-rich soil. They are prolific on the rainy windward side of the Big Island. The flowers have wonderful smell and are popular for making lei. | Source

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    • punacoast profile image
      Author

      Viet Doan 13 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      I love white bougainvillea too! They look spectacular when mixing with colorful bougainvillea like purple, red, magenta, etc. My garden is quite low maintenance, the flowers thrive and multiply practically on their own. I just trim back now and then to keep things from turning into a jungle! Thanks Alun, so glad you enjoy the hub. Aloha, Viet

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 13 months ago from Essex, UK

      Very good selection of your photos Viet Doan, and I'm sure many like me will envy you living with these flowers in your own garden on Hawaii's Big Island! I have seen many of these myself, though not in Hawaii, and agree with all the points you make about the merits of white flowers. The Bougainvillea in particular attracts me - possibly my favourite tropical plant, but I've never seen one as pure white as the one you show here. Cheers, Alun

    • punacoast profile image
      Author

      Viet Doan 13 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Aloha AliciaC! I'm so glad you enjoy this article and the photos. Happy gardening!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 13 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a lovely article. The flowers and the photos are beautiful and the facts are interesting. It looks like you have a wonderful garden!

    • punacoast profile image
      Author

      Viet Doan 13 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Mahalo Blond Logic! You know, I wish I could "attach" the fragrant of these flowers into this hub so readers could enjoy the garden walk even more! So glad you like the photos. Yes, thank you Mother Nature. Aloha!

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 13 months ago from Brazil

      Isn't nature wonderful! These images are stunning and are a credit not only to mother nature, but also your photography skills. (and a green thumb). You're right, about beautiful flowers not always having to be a display of color, white flowers against dark green foliage, such as gardenias, are always an eye catcher. The scent as you say, push these hue colored challenged flowers to the forefront for many gardeners.