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Hibiscus tiliaceus L. 1753
pronounced: hy-BISS-kuss till-ee-AY-see-uss
(Malvaceae – the hibiscus family)
common name: Beach Hibiscus
Hibiscus is the Latin name for the marshmallow plant; tiliaceus is Latin for ‘of linden-wood, linden-like’, referring to the similarity in the leaves to those of the linden (Tilia) genus. The taxonomy of some of the members of this genus is in the melting pot at present. The Malvaceae taxonomist Paul A. Fryxell has recently reclassified a group of 22 closely related species, including Hibiscus tiliaceus, into a new genus Talipariti. This reclassification has not yet been universally accepted, but it is fairly likely that our plant will soon change its name to Talipariti tiliaceum.
This is a common coastal plant native to eastern and northern Australia, Oceana, and southeast Asia. It is also an introduced feral species in several parts of the world, including southwest Australia, southern Africa, and Hawaii, where it was introduced by the early settlers. It is commonly found growing on the beach, by rivers, and in mangrove swamps. Given the right conditions, it can form impenetrable thickets and cover very large areas along coastlines.
The beach hibiscus is well-adapted to grow in a coastal environment, as it tolerates salt and waterlogging, and can grow in quartz sand, coral sand, marl, limestone, and crushed basalt. It can reach a height of up to 10 m, with a trunk up to 15 cm or more in diameter. The flowers are bright yellow with a deep red centre upon opening, and usually point downwards or slightly sideways. They are about 10-15 cm across when fully open. Over the course of the day, the flowers deepen to orange and finally red before they fall. In winter there may be few or no flowers in mild-tropical or subtropical climates, but the flowers may remain on the tree for more than a single day, creating an interesting effect as both yellow and reddish flowers may be seen on the trees at the same time. The branches of the tree often curve over time.
Although the tree usually propagates by seed (often water-carried), it is easy to grow from cuttings. When the trees are used as ornamentals or street trees, propagating from cutting will preserve any desired characteristics of the parent plant, such as variegated or purple leaves. The tree can be grown in containers, and it is also used for bonsai. It is frequently planted as a street tree, because it has such a dense, shady canopy. It can be trained as a standard and used to provide shade in car parks. This has been done in some of the Brisbane shopping centres, and at Brisbane airport. Care should be taken as to where this tree is planted, as its roots can be invasive.
The tree has many traditional uses. In Tahiti, the leaves are wrapped around food to be cooked, and are also used as plates. In southeast Asia, the leaves are fed to cattle. In Queensland, it is believed that the Aborigines used to eat the roots and young shoots. The Polynesians ate the young leaves, and used the bark fibres to make ropes, and also a form of traditional clothing. In Hawaii the wood is used to make outrigger canoes. Sometimes young branches on the trees are trained to form the required shapes, or they are bent to shape in an underground oven. Branches are also used for the rafters of huts. The branches are stripped of bark and then soaked in seawater for several weeks to discourage insects and rot. The timber is also used to make handles for axes, spears and broooms. Indigenous Australians used Beach Hibiscus wood to make woomeras, spears and fire-sticks.The light timber is attractively patterned and easily worked. There are also medicinal uses: the leaves to cool fevers and soothe coughs, the bark to treat dysentery, the flowers for ear infections and abscesses.
The Beach Hibiscus is a food plant for a number of Lepidoptera caterpillars, including:
• the bright Oak-blue Arhopala madytus;
• the Pink Bollworm Pectinophora gossypiella;
• the moth Rehimena surusalis;
• the moth Chasmina candida;
• the moth Anomis combinans; and
• the moth Anomis involuta.
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.
Photographs taken at Radical & Picnic Bays, 2009-2012
Page last updated 15th January 2018