Abelmoschus moschatus ssp. tuberosus

native rosella


Abelmoschus moschatus ssp. tuberosus

(Span.) Borss.Waalk. 1966

pronounced: a-bell-MOSS-kuss MOSS-kuh-tuss subspecies tew-ber-ROH-suss  

(Malvaceae — the hibiscus family)

subfamily: Malvoideae


common names: native rosella, musk okra

Abelmoschus is neo-Latin, from the Arabic abu-l-misk, “father of musk”, i.e. possessing musk; moschatus is botanical Latin for ‘musk-scented’, and tuberosus is Latin for ‘full of lumps’, used botanically to describe a plant that has tubers.

This is one of the two recognized subspecies of the genus, the other being ssp. moschatus, found in India, parts of Asia, and the Pacific Islands, and also naturalized in northern NSW. Our subspecies is found in northern and eastern Queensland, the northern part of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, in open woodlands or grasslands. It is most often found on rocky hillsides. There are also occurrences of the plant in parts of south-east Asia. This was possibly an early introduction to Australia. The specimen photographed was growing by the side of the track on The Forts walk.

It is an attractive soft herbaceous trailing plant to 2 m in diameter, with soft hairy stems. It occasionally grows to a height of 1 m or more, but usually flowers and fruits when smaller. As the name of the subspecies indicates, it has an underground tuber, and dies back to the tuber in the dry season, re-appearing with the first rains of the wet season. It is a relative of Abelmoschus esculentus, the edible okra, and the tuber was a food source for indigenous Australians. As well as the tubers, the leaves and shoots are edible, and all may be eaten raw or cooked. The unripe seedpods may be cooked as a vegetable, much like okra.

The alternate leaves are rough, hairy, either cordate or 3 - 5 lobed with serrate margins, measuring 4 - 10 cm by 4 - 8.5 cm; petioles are about 4 - 10 cm long; stipules are about 5 - 11 mm long, filiform, with translucent hairs. The hairs that coat the stems, petioles and both leaf surfaces are a mixture of long, translucent, simple and stellate hairs.

The flowers are hibiscus-like, usually watermelon pink in colour, sometimes white or cream, but always with a dark centre. They last only for one day, but are borne prolifically during the wet season. There is an epicalyx of 10 - 13 lobes, hairy on the inner surface. The calyx is either 2- or 3-lobed, split down one aside, and hairy. The petals are about 5 - 7 cm long. The anther filaments are fused into a tube surrounding the style, with the stigmas red and hairy at the apex. The staminal tube is fused to the corolla. Pollination is by insects.

Tough but papery 5-lobed capsules are produced in autumn, about 2.5 - 3.5 cm long, hairy, the epicalyx persistent at the base. The black seeds are reniform, longitudinally striated. They are musk-scented, as both the generic and the specific indicate.

An emulsion made form the seeds is reckoned to be a breath sweetener, an insecticide, and, when mixed with milk, is used to relieve itching. The seeds are also chewed as a nervine and a stomachic, and are reputed to be aphrodisiac. A paste of the bark is applied to cuts, wounds and sprains. An essential oil may be extracted, and is used in aromatherapy for the treatment of depression and anxiety, as well as externally to treat cramp, poor circulation and aching joints.

A fibre is obtained from the stem bark, and used to make ropes. A mucilage obtained from the roots is used as a size for paper.

This is a food plant for the larvae of

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.

Photographed on The Forts walk, February 2017
Page last updated 21st September 2018