Tropical Gardening: Fragrant flowers add to May Day weekend

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE The heavy scent of the cinnamon gardenia is a fragrant addition to local gardens. It’s not often found in garden shops, but it is easily grown from seed.

May Day in Hawaii is also Lei Day. There also is a noticeable spring fever effect happening now when it comes to local gardeners because many flowers start heavy blooming at this time.

Have you ever noticed Hawaii air smells better than most other places on the mainland? 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.


There are lots of good choices when it comes to adding flowering plants to your garden. 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 less-known and more varied plants that can add fragrance to our gardens.

Plumeria, night blooming jasmine, fragrant dracaena, gardenia and mock orange are equipped with fragrance so potent it can fill every inch of garden air space and drift into the house as well. Others such as the spider lily produce more subtle perfumes best appreciated at close range. There are dozens of species of ginger, and let’s not forget our native alahe‘e and hoawa available at some nurseries.

One very striking shade lover is the Brunfelsia, or Brunfelsia calycina floribunda. It gets its common name — yesterday, today, 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 can continue much of the year where conditions are ideal. There are several species sometimes available at local nurseries. The plant can 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. Several true jasmines bloom with fragrant flowers. Jasminum ilicifolium and Jasminum multifolorum are two shrubs used as foundation plantings. They also can 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 can be used as a small tree, an informal high hedge or screen or 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 6-8 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. Flowers are produced all 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 Mother’s Day, so you might consider locally made perfumes or candles using Hawaii fragrances as gifts. A living gift also is always popular. Stop by your local garden shops and nurseries to find these and many other plants for garden fragrance.