Tahiti's Top Flower Traditions

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

The South Pacific Islands are home to many flower traditions, which are central to the local culture. If you visit the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, you'll fall in love with the way the residents weave the floral bounty of French Polynesia into both their lore and legends as well as their everyday lives. Here are a few of the most memorable ways to experience Tahitian flower traditions.

Lei Flower Necklaces

You may recognize the lei as a staple in Hawaii, America's South Pacific outpost. Although it originally symbolized love, affection, friendship, or appreciation between two people, the lei (sometimes called a hei in Tahiti) now translates as a gesture of hospitality and welcome (maeva in Tahitian). For example, when greeted by your hotel representative at the international airport in Papeete, they will welcome you by placing a fragrant lei, typically made of frangipani or orchids, on your shoulders. Note: Leis should never be thrown in the trash, as that would be disrespectful. Instead, you should return the flowers 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 do they look and smell lovely, the tiare (Tahitian gardenia) also send a signal in the islands of Tahiti. When they are tucked behind the left ear, it means the wearer is taken; worn behind the right ear, it means the wearer is available; waved behind the head, it means "follow me." In some South Pacific islands, such as Samoa, these flower decorations are called sei.

Women wear the flowers in their hair or behind their ears as an accessory. They are used on an everyday basis, not just for special occasions.

Hei Floral Crowns

Also called a hei in Tahitian, these floral crowns—made of blossoms such as tiare, hibiscus, and frangipani—are used during celebrations and festive gatherings.

Female dancers put on a hei during Polynesian evening performances as do brides and grooms being married in a traditional Tahitian wedding ceremony.

Bed of Flowers

Tahitian resorts are renowned for decorating the guest beds 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 in honor of their special day.

Flower Bath

A flower bath is a popular relaxation treatment at Tahitian spas. Although they can be booked by one person, often times they're used as a couple's treatment. The flower bath often features a Jacuzzi tub filled with soothing warm water and a profusion of tropical blossoms, surrounded by romantic 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.