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Native Hawaiian hibiscuses

Posted by deweydave z11 HI (My Page) on
Wed, Jan 19, 05 at 3:39

Since many people are interested in hibiscus in Hawaii and around the world, let me introduce you to our native hibiscuses:
The name Aloalo is used for "hibiscus" in general. The ancient Hawaiians, though, could see differences and gave them different names.
The term "native Hawaiian" in this posting will mean those plants found in the Hawaiian Islands before the Polynesian people came here.

Hawaii has seven beautiful native Hawaiian hibiscuses. And there are numerous closely related genera, which I hope to write about in the future. Most of these are endemic, or found exclusively, in Hawaii and nowhere else. The following is a brief look at each of them.

White hibiscus
The two white (kea, or keo) species are both known as kokio keokeo. The petals of both species are white with a red staminal column (the center of the flower). The two species of kokio keokeo are the only known hibiscus species in the world with fragrance! Some have a mild scent, others stronger. Many hybrid hibiscus have our native white hibiscus in their background and sometimes the fragrance is passed on to the offspring as well.

One species of kokio keokeo (Hibiscus waimeae) is found on Kauai in somewhat drier forests around Waimea Canyon and nearby valleys. It is still fairly common, but there is a rare variety (H. waimeae subsp. hannerae) with much smaller flowers and larger leaves growing in a few remote northwestern valleys of Kauai. This subspecies is federally endangered.

A second species of kokio keokeo (Hibiscus arnottianus) has three recognized subspecies. Two of them are found on Oahu. H. arnottianus subsp. arnottianus is the most common and is found in both the Waianae & Koolau Mt. Ranges; H. arnottianus subsp. punaluuensis is found in a much smaller range in parts of the Koolau Mts. Hibiscus arnottianus subsp. immaculatus is a third recognized subspecies. It is extremely rare in the wild and found in a very small locations on Molokai. Fortunately they a easy to grow and a large number of the best clones are now available. It is unique in that the staminal column is pure white. These are striking plants in flower! It is federally endangered and nearly extinct in the wild.
The H. arnottianus group generally prefer more water than H. waimeae group.

Yellow hibiscus
The native yellow hibiscuses are very different than your typical hibiscus plants. The ancient Hawaiians could see this difference and thus named them mao hau hele. The leaves have more of a sandpaper feel to them and are maple-leaf in shape. The flowers are bright yellow, sometimes with red or maroon in the center. Mao hau hele has been chosen as the state flower of Hawaii.
There is one species (Hibiscus brackenridgei) with three varieties growing in dry forests and shrubland throughout the islands. All are federally endangered.

The first variety of mao hau hele (subspecies brackenridgei) is found on Molokai, Lnai, Maui and Hawaii. It grows as a shrub. Flowers can be large or small, depending where they are from.

The second variety (subsp. mokuleianus) is now only found on Oahu in a few locations in the Waianae Mountains; and is thought to be extinct on Kauai. This hibiscus grows to be more tree-like and is the largest of the three varieties. One sure way to tell this one apart from the other two varieties is if you try to pick a flower you will be poked by sharp, cactus-like prickles around the base of the flower. And they do sting too! Enjoy the flowers but best not to pick them.

A third variety of mao hau hele (subsp. molokaiana) was thought to be extinct for many years. It was only found on Molokai until recently a small population was discovered in Mkua Valley on Oahu. This mao hau hele, in my opinion, is the most beautiful of the three varieties and certainly the most rare!
However, all varieties of mao hau hele are easy and worth growing. Since they are relatively short-lived plants, it is good to make fresh cuttings every so many years.

Another yellow-type hibiscus that grows in Hawaii, but is found elsewhere, is Hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus). These commonly seen hibiscuses are usually found around the coastal brackish and fresh waters of the islands and form dense covering. Unless you have the space, it is a species I would not recommend growing this one in the yard.

Pink hibiscus
The only native pink hibiscus is akiohala (Hibiscus furcellatus). This beautiful hibiscus grows in elsewhere in the world mostly on low marshy places with a lot of water. Like oneof the subspecies of mao hau hele it has sharp prickles around the base of the flower. Still it is a striking plant in flower.

Red hibiscus
There are two native Hawaiian species of red ('ula) hibiscus named kokio ula.

The first type of kokio ula (Hibiscus kokio) is uncommon to rare and grows in dry to wet forests of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and Hawaii. Depending on the variety, the flowers can be red, orange, or rarely yellow. The are listed as a federally endangered species.

The second is kokio ula (Hibiscus clayi) is very rare and is also listed as a federally endangered species. They only grow in a few dry forests in eastern Kauai. The flowers of this species are always red.

In Hawaii it is now legal for people to grow them on their property with the identification tags. But no part of the plant can be sold without a proper permit or license. They all prefer some fertilizer and open sunny areas with good air flow.

Hope this clears up any confusion about the native Hawaiian hibiscuses. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Aloha a hui hou

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Native Hawaiian hibiscuses

Incidentally, if you would like to see the native Hawaiian hibiscus you can go to either of the websites

RE: Native Hawaiian hibiscuses

Hi deweydave, I am on a search for double yellow hibiscus, but every web search just takes me in circles! Do you have any suggestions? I would even go for cuttings! Thanks

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