Hawaiʻi has always been associated with flowers that are either bright and flashy (bird-of-paradise and jungly "tropicals"), or extremely fragrant (pīkake, pua kenikeni, etc.). The funny thing is none of them are native. Hawaiʻi's native flowers are much more subtle in both color and scent.
Nāʻū and nānū are Hawaiian names for three species of native Gardenia: G. brighamii, G. mannii, and G. remyi. Once occurring in the dry forests of all the main islands, only 13 wild individuals of G. brighamii remain between Oʻahu and Lānaʻi. Oʻahu endemic G. manii is uncommon in mesic to wet forests. G. remyi is occasionally found in the same forest types on Kauaʻi, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaiʻi.
Native Gardenia flowers are less showy than the widely cultivated, many-petaled white Gardenia, and their fragrance is softer (with a hint of coconut), inspiring this ʻōlelo: Kilihea i ke onaona - Drenched in soft fragrance. They were strung into lei, like those given to Kamehameha's warriors on a visit to Kaunolū, Lānaʻi (a favorite vacation spot of this chief). Kapa dye was made from the bright yellow-orange fruit pulp, and the hard wood of the trunk was carved into kua kuku kapa (kapa-beating anvils).
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