The moment you arrive in French Polynesia the islands' flowers welcome you. As you deplane, locals greet you with a fragrant tiare blossom and a heavenly lei of orchids is placed around your neck. Then, you are whisked off to your hotel. On the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, you often wake up to flowers on your breakfast tray, relax in a spa tub rimmed with soothing orchids, and fall asleep on a bed strewn in a vibrant rainbow of hibiscus and ginger. For a wedding, honeymoon, or tropical vacation, the colorful and abundant Polynesian flora delivers a romantic experience with a lasting impression.
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Known locally as the "Tiare Tahiti," these small, white, seven-petal gardenia blossoms are everywhere. This de facto symbol of Tahiti has a subtle, but sublime, fragrance. You will often see Tahitian gardenias worn behind the ear or adorning a flower crown or lei.
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One of the most abundant flowers in the South Pacific, frangipani (or plumeria) blooms on trees in gardens throughout this tropical paradise. The delicate yellow, white, and bright pink waxy blossoms have a rich, sweet fragrance. This flower is used in essential oil decoctions for its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
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Known in Tahiti as "purau," or stateside as Rose of Sharon, hibiscus' fluttery blossoms come in every color imaginable—from a brilliant yellow, to a sultry red, to a soothing pink. You'll often find them arranged in artful compositions on your hotel bed upon check-in. And they're also used to make tropical iced teas that aid digestion and provide antioxidant support.
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Arguably, the most dramatic of the French Polynesian flowers is heliconia. Its blossoms come in a number of arrangements, including one that resembles a large red lobster claw at the end of a long green stalk. Other varieties display dozens of red pod-shaped flowers on a dangling vine. Tahitian grandmothers make intricate decorations from this flower for family parties and special gatherings.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Like most tropical destinations, the islands of Tahiti are home to a variety of orchids, the most famous being the vanilla orchid. The vanilla orchid, when pollinated by hand, produces the prized vanilla pods distributed throughout the world. The vine can reach up to 30 meters long and the pods form bean-like clusters.
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Red torch ginger (or ornamental ginger) features sturdy red blossoms with many layers of petals that surround a large, cushion-like center. Do not mistake this pretty variety for its spicy counterpart, however. Both the red torch and pink gingers found on the islands are not edible.
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Jasmine, known in Tahiti as "pitate," produces small, sweet, and extremely fragrant white blossoms used in soaps, perfumes, and floral crowns, and leis. The jasmine flower symbolizes love and good luck in many cultures and it's used medicinally to treat eye and skin disorders.
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Found in only one location in the world—on a mountain peak on the sacred island of Raiatea—the flower, Tiare Apetahi, represents the legend of a Tahitian girl who fell in love with the son of a king and died of a broken heart because she could not marry him. Its petals symbolize her five fingers and the cracking sound this particular tiare gives off as its petals open at daybreak symbolizes the breaking of her heart.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York City–based freelance travel writer and editor who has spent her life pursuing her two main passions: writing and exploring the world.