A Lei for Hawaiian Ferns

Lei Legacies: May 2024

2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Every month we will weave a lei for you, one that brings together plants and stories from our five botanic gardens. Created by Tapa Andrade, May’s lei highlights the beauty, importance, and hopeful future of Hawaiʻi’s native ferns—grown in our Fern Laboratory.

A lei created by Keinan Kawaihalau-Alejo

Restoring Hawaiian ferns and our bonds with them

NTBG Fern Lab

Since 2007, the NTBG Fern Laboratory has been one of very few botanical research centers focused on the study and propagation of Hawaiian ferns, which make up more than a quarter of the islands’ native flora. The need to understand and protect these vital species has never been greater. This beautiful lei by Tapa Andrade celebrates the rich diversity, deep meanings, and future of Hawaiʻi’s cherished ferns.

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An interview with the lei maker, Tapa Andrade

What do lei mean to you?

Lei, to me, is a type of storytelling. It can tell the moʻolelo (stories) of the plants you’re using and each plant has different meanings. When creating a lei with certain plants, those plants give meaning to that lei. When you make lei, you think pono (just, good, righteous) thoughts and put your specific intention into that lei which gives it mana. And that’s one of the many things that makes lei special.

Can you share your vision behind this particular lei?

When I was picking the ferns and plants to make this lei, I was envisioning going up mauka (towards the mountains) into the valleys and seeing all these native plants, and how they grow wild amongst the valley walls and around the giant pōhaku (rocks) like I’ve seen while exploring different parts of Kauaʻi. I wanted to make this lei feel like you were amongst the ferns in the forest growing wild. I used the peʻahi, palapalai, and other native ferns you would find in the valleys, such as Limahuli.

How would you describe your relationship with plants? What advice might you have to help others deepen their relationship with the plants and places that define their home?

My relationship with plants is always growing. To really understand the plants, you have to go out and experience them up in the mountains or down by the kai (ocean). You really have to understand how they grow and what makes them so special. I feel like as a practitioner of Hawaiian lei making, one of the main things I always tell people is if you are going to pick materials to make lei, you always have to have positive intentions and make sure you mālama the plants. Don’t just go and take everything that’s available. You only take what you need and leave the rest to grow. And if you are new to lei making, you should find someone to kōkua (help) you and teach you the right ways to gather so you’re not harming the pants and there will be natives thriving for future generations.

Six decades. Five Gardens. One Mission.

Discover all of our lei legacy stories and check out upcoming events in celebration of NTBG’s 60th anniversary.

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