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A Not-so-Hawaiian Greeting for Tourists

September 17, 2000|ASSOCIATED PRESS

HONOLULU — First it was pineapples and sugar cane. Now it's leis that are making the move from Hawaii.

It turns out that flowers for the traditional "Hawaiian" necklace you pick up at the airport these days may have been imported from Thailand. And instead of fragrant local blooms, you may get less scented orchids--a plus for allergic tourists but a disappointment to those who find exotic fragrances part of Hawaii's allure.

Demand for leis has become so great, particularly with visitor arrivals approaching 7 million this year, that local flower growers can't meet it.

The leading flower import is the dendrobium orchid, a purple-tinged blossom that is plumper and cheaper than local orchids. It also lacks the strong scent of plumeria, tuberose and other local flowers.

There are several reasons for the imports. The growing seasons are reversed in Hawaii and Thailand, making flowers available year-round. And labor costs in Thailand pale beside Hawaii's, said Mordecai Hudson, owner of Hawaiian Orchid Nursery in Waianae.

Some tourists are taking the change in stride. When told the lei she was wearing was made from Thai-grown orchids, Natalie Yoder of Napa Valley was not surprised, noting that many "Hawaiian" souvenirs she and her husband found were made in China.

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