Thespesia populnea – Milo

Thespesia populnea - Milo, Portia Tree, Pacific Rosewood, Seaside Mahoe, Indian Tulip Tree (yellow flower)

Thespesia populnea - Milo, Portia Tree, Pacific Rosewood, Seaside Mahoe, Indian Tulip Tree (yellow flower)

Thespesia populnea - Milo, Portia Tree, Pacific Rosewood, Seaside Mahoe, Indian Tulip Tree (pink flower)

Thespesia populnea - Milo, Portia Tree, Pacific Rosewood, Seaside Mahoe, Indian Tulip Tree (pink flower)

Thespesia populnea - Milo, Portia Tree, Pacific Rosewood, Seaside Mahoe, Indian Tulip Tree (fruit)

Plant Name

Scientific Name: Thespesia populnea

Synonyms: Hibiscus populneoides, H. populneus, Thespesia macrophylla, T. populneoides

Common Names: Milo, Portia Tree, Pacific Rosewood, Seaside Mahoe, Indian Tulip Tree

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial, Evergreen

Growth Habit: Tree, Shrub

Hawaii Native Status: Native (indigenous). This plant is most likely native to Hawaii, but it was also introduced here by the ancient Polynesians.

Flower Color: Pale yellow, Pink (old)

Height: Up to 40 feet (12 m) tall, but usually less

Description: The flowers are tulip-shaped, only partly opened, up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, and have a cup-shaped calyx, a yellow staminal column, and 5 heavily crinkled, overlapping, yellow aging to pink petals with red at the base. The flowers are followed by rounded, somewhat flattened, 5-angled, 1 to 2 inch (2.5 to 5 cm) in diameter, leathery, green drying to brown seed capsules. The leaves are shiny, yellow-green to dark green, somewhat fleshy, alternate, and heart-shaped. The bark is gray and lightly fissured.

Here in Hawaii, Milo grows along the coast and can tolerate brackish water.

The similar Hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) also grows along the coast and has color-changing flowers and heart-shaped leaves, but it has more widely opened flowers with conspicuous lanceolate sepals.

Special Characteristics

Canoe Plant – Although it likely already existed here, Milo was also brought to Hawaii by the ancient Polynesians in their canoes. The attractively grained wood takes a high polish and was used to make food bowls and plates because it would not flavor the food like some other types of wood. The bark was used for fiber to make cordage. The young leaves were eaten. The fruits were used to make a yellowish green dye.

Edible – The young leaves are edible.

Classification

Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Dilleniidae
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae – Mallow family
Genus: Thespesia Sol. ex CorrĂȘa – thespesia
Species: Thespesia populnea (L.) Sol. ex CorrĂȘa – Portia tree

More About This Plant

Hawaii County Distribution Map