The word Lei itself means wreath and is traditionally given in greeting or congratulations. When many lei are presented, it's called "piling", and this photo shows why!
Hawaiians are fortunate to have a plethora of material to work with such as: Orchids of all colors, Black, White and Brown Kukui Nut, Seashells, Sea Grape, Tuberose, Crown Flower, Plumeria, Ti Leaves, and yes, even Carnations, just to name a few.
Immigrant workers in the 19th century brought flowering plants with them when they immigrated to Hawaii. Over time, these new varieties were slowly adapted for use in making leis. The Chinese brought Chinese violet and Jasmine; missionaries brought the American roses; and the Portugese brought the Plumeria. Today, Thailand imports the Dendrobium Orchid in huge quantities, and these have replaced the Plumeria lei traditionally used at airport greetings.
But lei are not limited to fresh flowers. They can also be constructed of paper, plastic flowers, origami, feathers, leaves, fish teeth and even money! In effect, a lei is a series of anything strung together for the purpose of wearing. This beauty (below) is rare, composed of Bougainvillea blossoms.
Having a Hawaiian-themed party of your own? Bloomers can help add that special note of authenticity with real-flower lei!