Grand Naniloa Hotel Mala

Grand Naniloa Hotel’s Māla Piko

The Grand Naniloa Hotel is working with Hawaiian cultural practitioners to create a Hawaiian ethnobotanical garden where people can come to learn about Hawaiian plants and even harvest to make lei and other items needed for hula and Hawaiian ceremonies.

The Naniloa on-site cultural advisor, Kumu Leilehua Yuen, holds classes on Sunday mornings. To learn about the plants and Hawaiian culture, gather in the lobby at 9:30 am. Check Kumu Leilehua’s Facebook page to confirm classes.

Māla Piko
A map of the māla piko of the Grand Naniloa Hotel. The māla is in evolution. Watch how it grows!

The māla piko [MAH-lah PEE-koh] (central garden) incorporates a number of Hawaiian concepts. The piko, umbilicus, is the center. Maunakea is the piko of Hawaiʻi Island. This garden is the piko of the Grand Naniloa Hotel. It is arranged along a spiral pathway which represents a journey though culture and time. The symbolism of the Māla Piko reaches back to the beginning of the Hawaiian people and invites you to make this inner journey.

The māla [MAH-lah] (a cultivated patch) is a kīpuka [KEY-POOH-kah], a calm place, an oasis of vegetation in the midst of the hustle and bustle of people coming and going.

And if we think of how people travel around it, coming from afar, staying awhile, and then heading out on more adventures, the māla piko can represent an island, welcoming and hospitable.

As you drive up to the lobby, the māla piko greets you with the maʻo-hau-hele, the Hawaiʻi state flower. It is an endemic hibiscus found only in these islands. Freshly transplanted, it has been strongly pruned to give the root system a chance to develop before bringing out new foliage. Take a look at it and see how it is coming along! The unusual leaf shape is worth noting!

The ferns along the edge of the māla are kupukupu, used in ceremony, lei making, and dye making.

ʻIlima, thought of as the “royal” flower because the lei is so time consuming to make, grows near the silvery-green shrubs of pōhinahina, useful for their fragrance to scent clothing, and to provide flowers and foliage for lei.

Palapalai is cherished by hula dancers.

Hāpuʻu pulu, tree ferns, shade palapalai ferns so beloved in the hula and associated with the goddess Hiʻiaka.

 [kee], the plant which provides leaves for hula skirts, and has many other uses, grows nearby.

Please enjoy a stroll through the garden.

We ask that you stay on the path. While our native plants are adapted to the loose cinder of their volcanic home, the weight of humans walking on it causes the sharp cinder to cut their roots.

Also, we ask that cigarette butts be placed in appropriate containers, not thrown in the garden. The tobacco can carry leaf mosaic spores, which can damage the plants, and and chemical enhancements in the cigarettes, the filters, and other components also are not healthy for the plants, birds, and insects we hope will find refuge here.

After so many months of construction, it was such a delight to see a bird enjoying the Māla and flying through the spray of the water sprinkler while we were planting!

Enter between the two pillars, Kahikina [kah-hee-KEE-nah] and Komohana [koh-moh-HAH-nah], East and West.

Maunakea, the piko of Hawaiʻi nei.

The triangular shape of the garden calls to mind Maunakea, and the spiraling pathway reminds us of a journey to the heart of the mountain. Let the imagination roam and find your own personal meaning.


Hāpuʻu Pulu
Hāpuʻu pulu is an important plant in the native Hawaiian forest.

The hāpuʻu pulu [HAH-POO-oo POO-loo] is a critical plant for the Hawaiian forest. It’s fibrous trunk provides a home for the native epiphytes, and when it dies, it provides the mulch which nourishes the trees and other plants. Whole communities of native plants and insects can spend generations on one tree fern! You can touch the trunk and see how it feels. Gently stroke the pulu, the red “fur” this fern is named for. At one time, Hawaiʻi exported tons of pulu for use as stuffing in the mattress industry. During famines, the hāpuʻu was baked, and the starchy core eaten. Visit Niaulani in Volcano Village and take a walk through their fern forest. Native plants are identified by informative markers.

Palapalai is used in the crafting of lei.

Under the hapuʻu pulu, palapalai [pah-lah-pah-LAH-ee] grows. The fern is used in lei making and in ceremony. It is associated with Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, the patroness of hula. She is the youngest sister of Pele, the goddess of the volcano.


Kī provides lāʻī, the useful leaves from which hula skirts, rain capes, rope, and many other things are made.

Kumu Leilehua calls Kī the “Hawaiian top kitchen drawer.” She says, “It is our aspirin to reduce fever, we use it instead of plastic wrap or aluminum foil to wrap food for cooking and to line food trays, it is our string, it is a vegetable, and it is used in ceremony. During famines, the root was baked and eaten. If it continues baking until it caramelizes, it is a candy, and fermented the root is used to make the famous Hawaiian liquor, ʻōkolehao.”

It is such an important plant, with so many uses, traditional Hawaiians plant it all about their homes. Notice that the Naniloa grounds have many tī plants which are well established, and are a cherished part of the property. Hālau which need lāʻī for skirts and crafts click here. 

The pōhinahina.

To your left, pōhinahina [POH-HEE-nah-HEE-nah] (Vitex rotundifolia), a fragrant shrub, has a juniper-like scent. It is used like a potpourri to keep garments fresh smelling. The purple blossoms attract honeybees and butterflies, and are beautiful in lei. Pōhinahina is found along the coastline and helps to stabilize the shore. It is also known as Kolokolo Kahakai, Hinahina Kolo, Manawanawa, Mawanawana, and Pōlinalina.

The delicate ʻilima, prized for lei, is so thin that it takes at least 300 blossoms to make a lei.

Growing beside the pōhinahina is ʻilima [ee LEE mah] (Sida fallax). This variety is a low-lying coastal shrub which also is useful in stabilizing the coastal soils.

This relative of the hibiscus is used in making a lei which is so time-consuming to make, few other than royalty wore it. It takes some 300 blossoms to make one lei, and is often worn in several strands! The traditional lei ʻilima is seldom seen today. In pageantry, the lei ʻilima represents the island of Oʻahu.

The naupaka blossom figures in a legend of two lovers.

On the right, another coastal plant, naupaka [nah-oo-PAH-kah], has inspired many legends with its half flower. The leaves, flowers, and berries can be made into lei, and the leaves provide a bright green dye. It often grows onto the sand, and provides shelter for nesting sea turtles.



Kupukupu translates to English as “unfurl.”

Edging the pathway is the kupukupu [KOO-poo-KOO-poo] fern. The kupukupu fern symbolizes the unfurling of knowledge, and so is used ceremonially and in lei for hula. Many types of sword ferns are endemic to the Hawaiian islands. If you would like to harvest kupukupu, or to take lei making classes, contact Kumu Leilehua.


Niu, the coconut palm, is an important resource in Hawaiian culture.

Niu [NEE-ooh], the coconut palm, was so important in ancient times that to cut down another chief’s trees was a declaration of war. The niu provides food, beverage, wood for house building, bowls, and hula drums, fronts for thatching and weaving materials, husk fiber for rope making, and many other necessities of life. It has the same lifespan as a human, about 70 years. A coconut often would be planted at the birth of a child and become the child’s own tree from which he would harvest. As Niuolahiki, the coconut palm figures in the genealogical chants of certain Hawaiian families. Hawaiʻi is near the edge of the North Pacific tropic region is as far north as niu grows well.

Two different hibiscus called maʻo hau hele [MAH-oh hah-oo HEH-leh] can be found in this māla. Next on your right is the Hibiscus rockii.






To your left, ʻukiʻuki [OOH kee OOH kee] is beginning to fill in the corner. ʻUkuʻuki is a native lily. The long leaves were braided into rope, and the purple berries were strung into lei or crushed for dye.

In the corner with the ʻukiʻuki is another maʻo hau hele, Hibiscus Brakenridgei.

As different people have come to our islands, they have brought their own cherished plants from home.

The purple pua kalaunu [POO-ah kah-lah-OO-noo], crown flower, was the favorite flower of Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Pīkake was the favorite flower of Princess Kaʻiulani.

The pīkake [PEE-KAH-kay], jasmine. It was the favorite flower of Princess Kaʻiulani [kah-EE-ooh LAH-nee]. She named it for her pet peacocks, “pīkake” in Hawaiian.




Loke Lani
Loke lani, the Heaven Rose, became the lei of Maui because of the many which were planted around churches and graveyards by the missionary wives.

The loke lani, “heaven rose,”








Loke lau, “green rose”



Kalo, the staple Hawaiian food, is still enjoyed today.

Kalo [KAH-loh], taro, is the staple food of the Hawaiian people and represents our origins, and so the kalo is planted at the piko, the navel, or center of the garden.





To your left is ʻuala and mamaki.










As you stroll the grounds of the Grand Naniloa Hotel, see how many plants you can identify, now that you have enjoyed the Māla Piko!