It’s the national flower of the Philippines (they call it ‘sampaguita,’ there) – it’s also one of the three national flowers in Indonesia, (the other two are the moon orchid and the giant padma.)
In Cambodia, the flower is used as an offering to Buddha. In India, it’s sacred to the god Vishnu and used in religious ceremonies. In China, the flower is processed and used as the main ingredient in jasmine tea.
In Oman, it features prominently on a child’s first birthday. Flowers are sprinkled on the child’s head by other children while chanting “hol hol” (the Arabic word for one year.)
It’s known as Jasminum sambac, a species of jasmine from the olive family (native to South and Southeast Asia.) It is known as the Arabian jasmine in English. (Other countries have other names for it.) The flowers are also used for perfumes.
“Plants that wake when others sleep. Timid jasmine buds that keep their fragrance to themselves all day, but when the sunlight dies away, let the delicious secret out, to every breeze that roams about.” (Thomas More, 16th Century)
The plant was introduced to Europe in the early 16th Century, although its existence had been known about for some time by then. It probably came into Hawaiʻi in the 1800s.
In Hawaiʻi, the flowers are woven into lei (it takes about 125 buds to make a single strand.)
It was the favorite flower of Princess Kaʻiulani. Kaʻiulani liked birds, too … especially peacocks.
The name of her birds (peacock – pīkake) carried over to become the name we use in Hawaiʻi for these flowers – the Pīkake.
Mapu ia ke ala o ka pīkake
I ka o aheahe a ka makani
Aloha aʻe au i ka pua ʻume mau
The fragrance of the pīkake is wafted
By a gentle blowing of the wind
I love the flower that constantly attracts
(Flanagan and Raymond)
Click here for a fabulous rendition of Lei Pīkake by Hapa:
While attending a wedding at Waimea on the Big Island, Kaʻiulani got caught in a cold Waimea rain while riding on horseback with her friends, Helen and Eva Parker (daughters of Samuel Parker.) She became ill; she and her family returned to O‘ahu.
After a two-month illness, Kaʻiulani died at ʻĀinahau on March 6, 1899, at age 23. It is said that the night she died, her peacocks screamed so loud that people could hear them miles away and knew that she had died.
Princess Kaʻiulani’s mother was Princess Miriam Kapili Kekauluohi Likelike (sister of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani) and her father was Scottish businessman and horticulturist Archibald Scott Cleghorn, who later became Governor of Oʻahu.
In his writings, Robert Louis Stevenson endearingly recalled that Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani was “…more beautiful than the fairest flower.