Hawaiian Teresa Sena’s Bold Creation

Floral designer Teresa Sena crafts a centerpiece that celebrates the tropical flora of her beloved Hawaiian island


My inspiration for this design came from the natural beauty of Hawaiian flora. Even the container I chose has a simple wooden shape and texture reminding me of a pahu (ancient Hawaiian word for drum). Living in upcountry Maui is like living in a garden, and I create arrangements to look like they’re growing in nature. When gathering these materials, I took notice of the lines and curves of each one so that I could later replicate them in the centerpiece. Though Maui’s an obvious place for tropical, exotic flora, you may start to see similar shapes and colors in the fruit, flowers, and plants you find along the road or in your local grocery stores.

Materials: coconut fiber, sphagnum moss, cardboard palm, ‘Xanadu’ philodendron, ornamental bananas, apple bananas, dragon fruit, spiral ginger, orange tulip ginger, pincushion proteas, cymbidium orchids, achiote tree seedpods, areca palm seedpods, pinanga seedpods, skeleton fork fern, flowering marmalade, shrub branches, banyan tree aerial roots, garbage bag, floral foam, knife, clippers, floral wire, large and small wired, floral picks, container, and tray
Step 1: If your container leaks, line it with a garbage bag and place the soaked foam inside. If necessary, cut smaller wedges of the foam with a knife and wedge them in. Hide the bag by wrapping coconut fiber around the edge and pinning it into the foam with wire. (I cut small pieces of floral wire and bend them into a ‘U’ shape.) Fill in with the moss.
Step 2: Create the framework of your arrangement with the large green foliage—cardboard palm and ‘Xanadu’ philodendron. The philodendron’s natural shape radiates out from the center, so make sure your lines mimic that look. For big branches like these, slice four edges on the base of each stem to square it off, which will keep it from pivoting in the foam.
Step 3: Start adding color and new texture with the ornamental banana branches and spiral ginger. Cut the stems at an angle so there’s more space to drink in the water from the foam, and remove any chunky parts of the lower banana stems to create a more graceful line. Then add pincushion proteas to really jazz up the arrangement. (Again, square off the stems.) Evenly display these showstoppers to balance the arrangement, including in the back.
Step 4: With floral picks, add the orchids, which are so quintessentially exotic. Use the larger picks for the entire stems, and the smaller picks to pepper individual orchid blooms throughout the arrangement. To open the faces of the orchid, it’s okay to gently turn back the petals with your fingers.
Step 5: After introducing more reds and golden yellows to the arrangement with the achiote tree seedpods, use picks to add the tentacle-like palm seedpod tendrils so that they appear to spill over the sides. Complete the color and texture story with the bristly green skeleton-fork fern (an endemic Hawaiian plant that natives used to make tea), flowering marmalade shrub branches, and wiry brown banyan tree aerial roots (bunch them together with wired picks). Feel free to improvise and fill in any holes as you see fit.
Step 6: To make the centerpiece a real tropical feast, don’t stop in your container. Continue the design down onto the table with new but cohesive elements. I used apple bananas and yellow dragon fruit. Cut one small dragon fruit in half lengthwise to showcase its delicious center. Add more texture with the orange tulip ginger and areca palm seedpods.

When in Maui

Floral designer Teresa Sena, a Maui transplant from the Pacific Northwest, has lived in this part of paradise for 36 years and counting. Maui is her favorite Hawaiian island, “hands down,” she says. “The reason being the diversity—there are so many little microcosms of people, culture, and environments.” Here she takes us along to some of her favorites on the island.

GARDEN: My kumu (Hawaiian for hula teacher) has the most beautiful garden but it’s private. I also love Iao Valley.

HIKE: There’s nothing more surreal than hiking within the crater of the inactive Haleakalā volcano.

LOCAL DISH: Poké, which  is raw ahi tuna that is chopped up and typically tossed with Asian sauces and seasoning. My favorite spot for it is Tobi’s Shave Ice in Paia. A fishing family owns it so poké is the freshest there. (137 Hana Highway, 808.579.9745)

RESTAURANT: Ka’ana Kitchen in the Andaz Resort in Wailea sources their food locally, so it’s always fresh and delicious. (3550 Wailea Alanui Dr.,  808.573.1234, maui.andaz.hyatt.com)

SNORKEL SPOT: Honolua Bay. It’s better when you can access it by boat and therefore stay further offshore. There are several great snorkel excursion companies on Maui that frequent this spot.

BEACH: Baldwin Beach in Paia. But one of the most surprising things about Maui is that there’s a huge life beyond the beach.

Produced by Pamela Hollon | Photography by Chris J. Evans