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Pua Kenikeni: By Any Other Name…

March 7, 2017, 1:00 PM HST
* Updated March 31, 9:33 AM
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Fagraea berteriana, pua kenikeni, perfume flower tree, ten cent flower, pua tonga or pualulu… as locals would say, “same smell different name!”

The pua kenikeni is one of the most fragrant blooms anywhere.

Indigenous to Northern Australia and the Caroline Islands, the pua kenikeni can be found growing from near sea level to about the 3500 feet in elevation.

Widely spread throughout the Pacific, it was introduced to Hawai‘i in modern times as an ornamental addition to the garden.

It obtained the nickname “perfume flower tree” because its fragrance highly sought to produce scented coconut oils and perfumes.

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Once introduced to Hawai‘i, it quickly gained popularity among the locals for use in making lei.

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It was commonly known as the “ten cent flower” here in Hawai‘i because that was all it cost to buy a lei made of these beautiful long-tubed blossoms. That, however, is no longer the case,  with average lei costing $9 or more.

Trumpet-shaped blossoms start out white and change to yellow or pale orange as it ages. Flowering may appear at any time of year—sometimes continuously.

While it is able to be grown from seed, it often takes several years to reach 3 feet in height.

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Rooted cuttings or air layers are the preferred growing methods.

Trees are reported to grow in excess of 40 feet in some areas. However, it is better to trim it and keep it low if you intend to pick its blossoms.

Its intoxicating, unforgettable fragrance has made many everlasting impressions and has also led to many love songs that praise this flower.

The lyrics of this song speak of the enchantment of the fragrant flower known by many different names.

Pua Kenikeni: Recorded by Tony Conjugacion

Na ka pua kenikeni ko‘u ho‘ohihi
Ke ‘ala ho‘oheno i ku‘u poli

Onaona i ka ihu ke honi aku
A ke këhau a‘e hali mai nei

Na wai e ‘ole ko‘u ho‘ohihi
Ke ‘ala hu‘ihu‘i o ia pua

E kuiau a lawa
I lei ho`oheno no ku‘u kino

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ka puana
Na ka pua kenikeni ko‘u ho‘ohihi

English Translation

The pua kenikeni is what enchants me
The cherished fragrance at my heart

Softly fragrant to inhale
That which the dewdrops bear

Who would not share my enchantment
The thrilling perfume of that blossom

I will string enough to make
A cherished lei for my person

Tell the refrain
The pua kenikeni is what enchants me

Buds, blossom and young green seed pod of the pua kenikeni tree. Darde Gamayo photo.

Mature seed pods of the pua kenikeni tree.  Darde Gamayo photo.

Pua kenikeni tree blossoms start of a light cream color and become darker yellow-orange as it ages. Darde Gamayo photo.

 

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