Tahiti's Flower Traditions

With vibrant blossoms in abundant supply, Tahitians embrace flowers everyday

Hibiscus Blossoms
••• Stuart Black / robertharding / Getty Images

Tahiti has few peers when it comes to the enduring beauty of its flower traditions. If you visit the islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, you'll fall in love with the way the islands' residents weave the floral bounty of the South Pacific into both their lore and legends as well as their everyday lives. Here are few of the most memorable ways you will experience Tahitians' love of flowers:

Lei

Also a staple in Hawaii, America's South Pacific outpost, the lei, sometimes called a hei in Tahiti, now symbolizes welcome (maeva in Tahitian), although its origins signaled love, affection, friendship or appreciation between two people.

When greeted by your hotel representative at the international airport in Papeete, you will be welcomed with a fragrant lei, typically of frangipani or orchids, that is placed on your shoulders. Leis should never be thrown in the trash, but rather should be returned to the earth by cutting the string and letting the petals flutter to the ground or into the sea.

Tiare Blossom Behind the Ear

Not only does this look and smell lovely, but in the islands of Tahiti the tiare, or Tahitian gardenia, also sends a signal: worn tucked behind the left ear, it means the wearer is taken; worn tucked behind the right ear, it means the wearer is available; waved behind the head, it means "follow me."

Crown

Also called a "hei" in Tahitian, these floral crowns, made of blossoms such as tiare, hibiscus and frangipani, are worn by female dancers during Polynesian night performances as well as by brides and grooms being married in a traditional Tahitian wedding ceremony.

Bed of Flowers

Tahitian resorts are renowned for decorating the beds of their guests with flowers. Most visitors will find a few artfully arranged hibiscus blossoms atop their bedspread, but couples celebrating a wedding or honeymoon are apt to find a vastly more elaborate design and snap plenty of photos of it before gathering them up and calling it a night.

Flower Bath

A popular mode of relaxation at Tahitian spas, sometimes for one person but most often for couples, the flower bath is a Jacuzzi tub filled with luxuriously warm water and a profusion of tropical blossoms and lined with flickering candles. Resorts may also leave a surprise flower bath for newlyweds on their wedding night or for honeymooners on the first night of their stay.