A combination of bad weather and bad timing along with the annual high demand for flowers during graduation season has left florists and lei-makers in a lurch and hunting for blooms.
"There is a shortage of the flowers that we normally would have a lot of. A part of it is because of the weather," said Wayne Tokumoto, one of the owners of Kahului Florist.
The scarcity of flowers such as the popular carnations and orchids forced the shop to stop taking graduation lei orders a few weeks after the beginning of April, Tokumoto said. The result has been that lei orders are down "quite a bit," and he estimated lei sales would be down about 60 percent.
lei making at Kahului Florist
At Aloha Lei & Flower Designs on Alamaha Street in Kahului, co-owner Terry Collins said she is also in a bind. She cannot get carnations, and the tuberose she usually uses is "sleeping" and not in bloom, her grower told her.
Recently, a resort sought 154 lei from Collins' business, but she had no flowers and needed to provide ti leaf lei adorned with roses made out of ti leaves, she said.
"It worked," she said.
Kahului Florist employee Lyndell De Coite shows a completed red carnation lei.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
"It's really sad we don't have an ample amount of flowers," said Maui Flower Growers' Association Executive Director Cheryl Ambrozic.
She said she hoped the state and county could offer more incentives and opportunities to get more local Lei flower farms to "re-bloom" the industry in the islands. She said those incentives and opportunities also could prevent local florists and lei-makers from importing flowers from out of state and out of the country that are usually cheaper and more plentiful.
Ambrozic said she disliked seeing plastic flowers, which some florists are using as substitutes for real flowers. She said the "scent and the colors" of real flowers "provide a powerful and long-lasting" impression.
Although parents searching at the last minute for that specially made double-carnation lei may be out of luck, flower lei can still be found at supermarkets and stores. But at least at Safeway in Kahului, no reservations are being taken for lei, which are being sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tokumoto said flooding in Thailand this year has hurt the dendrobium crop so "there is a shortage of that coming in from that side." Meanwhile, vanda orchids grown in Central Maui are not blooming now, he said.
If graduations were held later in the year, as has been the case with June graduations in the past, then the vanda orchids would have a better chance of blooming, he said.
As for his carnations, Tokumoto said his Maui grower had a problem with the young plants this year, so the crop was smaller.
There's also a shortage of maile, he said.
Kahului Florist had been able to make 70 to 80 double-carnation lei each for the major high schools on Maui, Tokumoto said, but now they will hopefully be able to sew about 20 per major high school, which he said included Maui, Baldwin and King Kekaulike high schools.
The store limits the number of double-carnation lei for each school so each school has a chance to have some graduates with the lei, he said.
Tokumoto added that he still has roses and cut flowers for bouquets as well as candy and coin lei.
Collins may not have many flowers, but "we have lots of maile."
But she said she cannot get the baby roses she used to receive from her off-island supplier because the supplier stopped answering the phone a week and a half ago.
Collins said she assumes it's because of graduation season. University of Hawaii at Manoa and University of Hawaii Maui College held their graduations over the weekend.
Collins said her carnation supplier also has had a hard time with the carnation crop this year because wind and rain damaged the red and white carnation crops.
But Collins added that she and other florists and lei-makers are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
"(You) can't make any more flowers. (You) can't make them bloom. There is nothing you can do," she said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.