Graduation week is boom time for leimaking florists

Island florists are busy producing leis today that are in high demand for graduation ceremonies at island schools this month, including those scheduled tonight for graduates of Waimea High School and Kauai High School.

Among the favorite leis are single and double carnation, maile and mokihana, orange puakinikini flowered, the “cigar lei” and the orchid.

The most dominant lei of the bunch is the red or white carnation, said Alan Tada, the owner of Flowers Forever in Lihue, a company that has been in business for 21 years.

“The double carnation lei is number one,” Tada said. “I don’t care how many leis you put on your graduate, when you put one or two carnation leis on, it is showy. It says a lot.”

The lei continues to have high appeal partly because of the movie “Blue Hawaii,” Tada said. In the movie, Elvis Presley wore a robust and flowing red carnation in a wedding scene filmed at the historic Coco Palms Resort in Wailua.

Tada buys some carnations locally but buys 80 percent of his stock from Ecuador and California to make sure he has enough flowers to meet customer demand.

For Kauai graduates of generations ago, the carnation lei was the only lei to wear. Before carnation leis were professionally made at florist shops on Kauai, some island residents made their own and dipped the tip of white carnations with food coloring to set them off from other leis.

Tada said other favorite leis for this graduation year are the cigar lei, which consists of 600 to 700 flowers, the “Deluxe” lei, consisting of about 700 white sonya orchids with velvet purple edges, the “Roberta” lei, which consists of 700 “sewn” white-edge orchids, and the “Robert” lei, a swirl of 700 white and purple sonya orchids.

Buyers also opt for “sweetheart” lei, consisting of sonya orchids that are sewn “sidewards” and laid out in a flat configuration, Tada said.

Then there is the kukui nut lei, a combination of mach orange leaves and shells, a favorite for male graduates, Tada said.

Other favorite lei include the pua kinikini flower lei, known for its fragrance, and the ti-leaf lei, which come in twisted and “single and double styles” and are meshed with maile vines, Tada said.

His shop also sells rose arm bouquets, Tada said.

Tada buys some flowers grown in Asia and on other islands in Hawaii. For instance, sonya orchids are flown in from Thailand, and the pikake flowers are flown in from Molokai because Oahu florists buy most of the pikake flowers for lei during graduation time, Tada said.

Double carnation lei are a big hit with graduates from Kauai High School and Waimea High School, according to Carol Kimura, proprietor of Kalaheo Flowers and Gardens.

The carnation lei are traditional favorites because “they are big and mean graduation, red or white carnation leis if you are from Waimea,” Kimura said.

Carnations are brought in from Ecuador and Columbia, and Kimura allows the flowers to bloom before the lei are made. That way, the carnation lei are rich and full when given to the graduates.

Kimura said her customers have been asking for white lei with blue bows, and their petals are being sprayed with floral paint to give the lei a different look.

Other favorite lei is the maile-intertwined-with-mokihana lei, because they put out a pleasant scent and because they are found exclusively in Koke’e.

As a way to stretch their budgets, people have opted to buy the less-expensive ti-leaf leis, Kimura said. “Some go for the ti-leaf leis if they have to buy a lot of leis. Actually it is nice,” she said.

Some parents and family members also buy single or a dozen roses for graduating seniors, Kimura said.

Kimura, who has been making lei for 20 years, said that she and family members look forward to making lei for graduation exercises. The perfect lei makes the occasion memorable, she said.

“We want them to remember it (with a special lei),” Kimura said.

Kalaheo Flowers is promoted as the premier florist shop for Kauai’s South Shore and Westside. Yaeko Kimura, Kimura’s mother-in-law, founded the business 50 years ago, and continues to make leis today.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and


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