Hibiscus tiliaceus

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Hibiscus tiliaceus
Fleur de pūrau (hibiscus tiliaceus).jpg
Sea hibiscus from Tahiti
Hibiscus tiliaceus Blanco2.274-cropped.jpg
Sea hibiscus from Flora de Filipinas (Francisco Manuel Blanco, 1880-1883)

Secure (NatureServe)[2]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Hibiscus
H. tiliaceus
Binomial name
Hibiscus tiliaceus

Talipariti tiliaceum (L.) Fryxell
Hibiscus pernambucensis Arruda

Hibiscus tiliaceus, commonly known as the sea hibiscus or coast cottonwood, is a species of flowering tree in the mallow family, Malvaceae, with a pantropical distribution along coastlines. It has also been introduced to Florida and New Zealand. It has been debated whether this species is native or introduced to Hawaii.[1]


Common names include sea hibiscus, beach hibiscus, coastal (or coast) hibiscus, coastal (or coast) cottonwood, green cottonwood, native hibiscus, native rosella, cottonwood hibiscus, kurrajong, sea rosemallow and dhigga (Maldivian).

The plant was introduced by Austronesian peoples that voyaged across Southeast Asia and Oceania as a source of wood and fibre.[4][5] This is reflected in the names of the plant as spoken in many related languages spoken in those regions including balibago (Tagalog), malobago (Bikol), malabago or malbago (Cebuano – Southern), maribago (Cebuano – Northern), lambago (Cebuano - Cagayan de Oro), waru (Javanese), baru or bebaru (Malay), pagu (Chamorro), hau (Hawaiian), fau (Samoan), purau (Tahitian), and vau tree.[6] The specific epithet, "tiliaceus", refers to its resemblance of the leaves to those of the related Tilia species.[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

var pernambucensis in Brazil

Hibiscus tiliaceus has a worldwide tropical distribution. In the Old World and Oceania, it is a common coastal plant in most of tropical Africa, South Asia (including the Maldives), Southeast Asia, parts of East Asia (as far north as central Japan, where it reaches its northernmost extent), eastern and northern Australia,[8] and much of the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii (where its establishment status is uncertain). It has also been introduced to New Zealand. A separate variety, var. pernambucensis (formerly considered a separate species, H. pernambucensis), is native to the tropical New World, including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and much of South America. This variety has also been introduced to Florida.[1][9]

It is uncertain if the species is native to Hawaii, as it may have been introduced by the Polynesians.[7] It is considered native by Plants of the World Online, but the IUCN considers it of uncertain status.[10][1] Hibiscus tiliaceus can be found at elevations from sea level to 800 m (2,600 ft) in areas that receive 900–2,500 mm (35–98 in) of annual rainfall. It is commonly found growing on beaches, by rivers and in mangrove swamps. Sea hibiscus is well adapted to grow in coastal environment in that it tolerates salt and waterlogging and can grow in quartz sand, coral sand, marl, limestone,[11] and crushed basalt.[12] It grows best in slightly acidic to alkaline soils (pH of 5–8.5).[11] Cotton Tree, Queensland, Australia is named for the plant.


Hibiscus tiliaceus reaches a height of 4–10 m (13–33 ft), with a trunk up to 15 cm (5.9 in) in diameter.[9] The flowers of H. tiliaceus are bright yellow with a deep red center upon opening. Over the course of the day, the flowers deepen to orange and finally red before they fall. The branches of the tree often curve over time. The leaves are heart shaped and deep red in the var. rubra.


Sea hibiscus from Hawaii

The wood of H. tiliaceus has a specific gravity of 0.6. It has been used in a variety of applications, such as seacraft construction, firewood, and wood carvings. It is easy to plane and turns well, so it is regarded by many as a high quality furniture wood. Plant fibers taken from the stems have traditionally been used in rope making,[13] while its bark has been used like cork, in sealing cracks in boats. The bark and roots may be boiled to make a cooling tea to cool fevers, and its young leafy shoots may be eaten as vegetables. Native Hawaiians used the wood to make ʻiako (spars) for waʻa (outrigger canoes), mouo (fishing net floats), and ʻau koʻi (adze handles). Kaula ʻilihau (cordage) was made from the bast fibers.[14] Hau would be used to make ʻama (canoe floats) if the preferred wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) was unavailable.[15]

Hibiscus tiliaceus is widely used in Asian countries as a subject for the art of bonsai, especially Taiwan. The finest specimens are taken from Kenting National Park. Lending itself to free grafting, the leaf size is reduced fairly quickly. Its leaves are also used in cooking, as trays for steamed rice cakes (粿).

In Indonesia H. tiliaceus is also used for fermenting tempeh. The undersides of the leaves are covered in downy hairs known technically as trichomes to which the mold Rhizopus oligosporus can be found adhering in the wild. Soybeans are pressed into the leaf, and stored. Fermentation occurs resulting in tempeh.[16]


Cyanidin-3-glucoside is the major anthocyanin found in flowers of H. tiliaceus.[17] Leaves of H. tiliaceus displayed strong free radical scavenging activity and the highest tyrosinase inhibition activity among 39 tropical plant species in Okinawa.[18] With greater UV radiation in coastal areas, it is possible that leaves and flowers of natural coastal populations of H. tiliaceus have stronger antioxidant properties than planted inland populations.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Rivers, M.C.; Mark, J. (2019). "Hibiscus tiliaceus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2019: e.T61786470A143753393. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T61786470A143753393.en. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  2. ^ "Hibiscus tiliaceus". NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe. Retrieved 2007-07-03.
  3. ^ "Talipariti tiliaceum". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2010-02-16.
  4. ^ Prebble, Matiu; Anderson, Atholl (2012). "The archaeobotany of Rapan rockshelter deposits" (PDF). In Anderson, Atholl; Kennett, Douglas J. (eds.). Taking the High Ground: The archaeology of Rapa, a fortified island in remote East Polynesia. terra australis. Vol. 37. ANU E Press. pp. 77–95. ISBN 9781922144256.
  5. ^ Dotte-Sarout, Emilie; Kahn, Jennifer G. (November 2017). "Ancient woodlands of Polynesia: A pilot anthracological study on Maupiti Island, French Polynesia". Quaternary International. 457: 6–28. Bibcode:2017QuInt.457....6D. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2016.10.032.
  6. ^ Blust, Robert; Trussel, Stephen (2010). "*baRu: a small shore tree: Hibiscus tiliaceus". Austronesian Comparative Dictionary. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Retrieved 30 September 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ a b Motooka, P.; L. Castro; D. Nelson; G. Nagai; L. Ching. "Hibiscus tiliaceus Hau" (PDF). Weeds of Hawaiʻi’s Pastures and Natural Areas; An Identification and Management Guide. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Retrieved 2010-02-16.
  8. ^ "Hibiscus tiliaceus". PlantNET - NSW Flora Online. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  9. ^ a b Little Jr., Elbert L.; Roger G. Skolmen (1989). "Hau, sea hibiscus" (PDF). Common Forest Trees of Hawaii (Native and Introduced). United States Forest Service. Retrieved 2010-02-16.
  10. ^ "Hibiscus tiliaceus L. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 2022-06-27.
  11. ^ a b Elevitch, Craig R.; Lex A.J. Thomson (April 2006). "Hibiscus tiliaceus (beach hibiscus)" (PDF). The Traditional Tree Initiative.
  12. ^ Allen, James A. (2003-01-01). "Hibiscus tiliaceus L." (PDF). Tropical Tree Seed Manual. Reforestation, Nurseries & Genetics Resources. Retrieved 2009-03-01.
  13. ^ Standley, Paul C.; Blake, S. F. (1923). "Trees and Shrubs of Mexico (Oxalidaceae-Turneraceae)". Contributions from the United States National Herbarium. Washington, D.C.: Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution. 23 (3): 780. JSTOR 23492504.
  14. ^ "hau, hau kaʻekaʻe". Hawaii Ethnobotany Online Database. Bernice P. Bishop Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2009-02-28.
  15. ^ Medeiros, A. C.; C.F. Davenport; C.G. Chimera (1998). "Auwahi: Ethnobotany of a Hawaiian Dryland Forest" (PDF). Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
  16. ^ Shirtleff, William; Akiko Aoyagi (1979). The Book of Tempeh (PDF). Soyinfo Center, Harper and Row. ISBN 9780060140090.
  17. ^ Lowry, J.B. (1976). “Floral anthocyanins of some Malesian Hibiscus species”. Phytochemistry 15: 1395–1396.
  18. ^ (Masuda et al., 1999; 2005)
  19. ^ (Wong et al., 2009; Wong & Chan, 2010).


  • Masuda, T., Yonemori, S., Oyama, Y., Takeda, Y., Tanaka, T., Andoh, T., Shinohara, A., Nakata, M. (1999). ”Evaluation of the antioxidant activity of environmental plants: activity of the leaf extracts from seashore plants”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 47: 1749–1754.
  • Masuda, T., Yamashita, D., Takeda, Y., Yonemori, S. (2005). “Screening for tyrosinase inhibitors among extracts of seashore plants and identification of potent inhibitors from Garcinia subelliptica”. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry 69: 197–201.
  • Wong, S.K., Lim, Y.Y., Chan, E.W.C. (2009). “Antioxidant properties of Hibiscus: Species variation, altitudinal change, coastal influence and floral colour change”. Journal of Tropical Forest Science 21(4): 307–315.
  • Wong, S.K., Chan, E.W.C. (2010). “Antioxidant properties coastal and inland populations of Hibiscus tiliaceus”. ISME/GLOMIS Electronic Journal 8(1): 1–2. http://www.glomis.com/ej/pdf/EJ_8-1.pdf.