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Maui Business Report

(page 3 of 6)

 

Lei Away

On the Friendly Isle, Molokai Plumerias turns the export of aloha into a cottage industry.

Molokai Plumerias, near Kaunakakai.

Photo: Courtesy of Molokai Plumerias

Technically, Dick Wheeler is a flower grower. The owner of Molokai Plumerias ships tens of thousands of the delicate blossoms to locations across the country each week, fulfilling requests of homesick Hawaii transplants or Mainlanders yearning for a scent of paradise. But more than a simple farmer, Wheeler delivers tiny tokens of aloha to the world, bloom by bloom.

“Plumerias are iconic,” he says. “They represent our Islands and the tropical atmosphere so well that when aunties on the Mainland open it up they sometimes break into tears.” 

In 1989, Wheeler and his wife, Aome, purchased a 10-acre plot near Kaunakakai to start their farm. Today, workers pick and ship an average of 5,000 flowers daily, with most blossoms destined for the Mainland.

Some of Wheeler’s top customers are hula halau, and that network has helped spread the word about his product. 

“The whole Hawaii community on the Mainland is really interconnected, so when we do a good job for somebody, they’ll let their friends know,” says Wheeler. “We never advertise — it’s just by word of mouth.” 

To keep flowers fresh, the plumeria are gathered each morning and shipped in cooled and insulated boxes before lunchtime. 

“Quality is critical,” Wheeler says. “You don’t want to be sending flowers to a wedding and have them just be a limp box when they get there.” 

The Wheelers keep things simple by offering classic yellow blooms, and customers can also order pre-strung lei. Sales of plant cuttings, as well as farm tours and onsite lei-making workshops are other sources of revenue. 

After more than two decades in the business, Wheeler says he’s still not tired of it.

“I walk through the orchard and am regularly blown away by how nice it is,” he says.

 

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