Tillandsia usneoides – some call it Spanish Moss, but in Hawaii (or what was known as the “Sandwich Islands” during the Victorian Period) we call it Pele’s Hair.
Pele, one of the elemental goddesses in Hawaiian Culture/Mythology, is the Goddess of Fire. She creates the very land we live on and she has the power to take it all away. Described as passionate in love as well as hate, Pele is a Goddess you don’t want to upset.
Sighting of the Goddess herself are still reported, but you have to know what to look for. Near the volcano where the lava bubbles beneath or flows above the ground, Pele is seen as a young woman with dark lustrous hair.
Near the ocean, where she wars with her sister goddess who controls the seas, she is seen as an old woman. Her grey hair resembles the steam rising from the ocean as the lava flows into the waves.
Pele’s hair, the plant, also bears some resemblance to Madame Pele’s aged hair, swaying from the branches of trees in Hawaiian gardens. An air plant, it absorbs moisture from the air and grows long and fast.
When modern Hawaiians celebrate May Day (May 1st), each major island of the chain is honored with a Princess who wears the ‘flower’ of the island.
Kahoolawe is honored with the hinahina, a silvery flower. It is a flower not easily found on all the island and some resort to dressing the princess from that island in lei made of Pele’s Hair. The soft billowy strands look quite lovely next to the grey satin of her gown.