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Stephanotis, or pua male, is Hawaii's wedding flower

By Duane Choy

LAST UPDATED: 2:25 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Today my oldest nephew, Travis Choy, is getting married to Youna Choi. This article about stephanotis (Marsdenia floribunda), known as pua male — "wedding flower" in Hawaiian, is dedicated to them.

Pua male is ceremoniously utilized in bridal bouquets, corsages and various wedding ornamentations. Other names for stephanotis are bridal veil vine, bridal wreath, chaplet flower, waxflower, clustered waxflower, flor-de-noiva, floradora, Madagascar chaplet flower and Madagascar jasmine.

Native to Madagascar, stephanotis was introduced to European horticulture in 1839. During the 1870s, Dr. William Hillebrand documented its presence in Honolulu gardens.

Stephanotis is a shrubby, climbing vine with woody, twining stems. Branches are sparse. The oval, evergreen leaves are leathery and lustrous. Leaves are sometimes slightly bent and grow opposite on the vine. The jasmine-perfumed, tubular flowers have five slim lobes. The snow-white blossoms have a waxy texture and sprout clustered at the leaf axils.

Flowering is profuse and successive. The fruit/seedpod resembles a young, green mango.

Pua male propagates easily from seed. Cuttings from solid green shoots, dosed with rooting hormone, should be placed in individual containers. Because the root structure is brittle, seedlings and cuttings will transplant more smoothly from individual pots rather than colony flats.

Furnish firm support like a trellis, fence, rock wall or even a tree for pua male to ascend. Ideal soil should be organically rich and well draining. A 10-30-10 fertilizer, every four months, promotes robust growth and exuberant flowering.

Flowers are pinched from the vines in early morning for Hawaiian lei-making. Use a paper bag for holding. Avoid exposure to car exhaust, smoke, ripening fruits and wilting flowers. Clean with a simple cold-water soaking.

Blossoms stored in plastic can last up to a week in 40-degree refrigeration. Completed lei should be misted, with excess moisture shaken off, and again placed in plastic storage and refrigerated.

My girlfriend in high school amazed me when she gathered and crafted for my graduation day an opulent pua male lei in the kui poepoe style (stringing the flowers across the petals and corolla and then arranging in a circular pattern). I was blissfully oblivious to any cryptic symbolism.

Being drought-tolerant, pua male is an excellent xeriscape option for sunny, dry island gardens.

Proverb 2881 in our classic "‘Olelo No‘eau," by Mary Kawena Pukui, reads: "Uo ia i ka mania hookahi." Or, "strung (like flowers) on the same lei needle" — a poetic, Hawaiian depiction of being "married."

Today my nephew Travis and his new bride, Youna, become "strung" flowers.

Duane Choy is a native Hawaiian plant specialist. Reach him at

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