Any visitor to Hawaiian beaches outside of Waikiki will encounter a plant with waxy leaves and an interesting white flower that has purplish streaks in it. Actually, the flower is interesting when you look closer because a fully formed bloom only looks like half a flower.
The plant is Naupaka Kahakai and it is one of eight varieties of Naupaka in Hawaii. Of the eight varieties, Naupaka Kahakai is the only one found outside of Hawaii because of its ability to survive in salt water. It can get as high as 10 feet tall and generally grows only on coastlines. Kahakai literally means next to the sea - so this plant is the Naupaka that grows next to the sea.
The leaves of the Naupaka Kahakai are thick and pulpy- almost like a succulent. The Naupaka Kahakai flower only grows the bottom half of the flower - in the mountains is another variety (known as the Naupaka Kuahiwi in the Hawaiian Language) which grows the top half of the flower - if this sounds like the makings of a romantic legend to you - your instincts have led you the right way.
Legend says that in ancient times Madam Pele became jealous of the love shared by two young lovers. She tried many tricks to drive them apart but with no success. Finally, in anger she drove the man into the mountains away from his love. She was going to burn him to death with her lava but her two sisters taking pity on the man changed him into Mountain Naupaka which is one of a few hardy plants able to survive on lava fields. When Pele went after the girl, the sisters changed her to the Beach Naupaka which can survive the sand and salt of the sea.
In ancient times, a young man would bring his love a lei of Mountain Naupaka and she would greet him with a lei of the Naupaka Kahakai and thus, the lovers would be reunited and bless their union.