Cook Islands Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Hibiscus tiliaceus


Tree Hibiscus

Multimedia & Additional Resources

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Open this image in pop-up window Image: Wild form and variegated form 60KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Ornamental variegated form 102KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Wild form with fresh and old (red) flower 58KB

General Information

COMMON NAMES: Tree Hibiscus, Beach Hibiscus, Vau [Fiji]; French Purau

TRADITIONAL NAMES: ‘Au (RR MG AT AK), ‘Au / Pū‘au (MK), ‘Au / ‘Au Mara / ‘Au Ango (MT), Burau (PL), Purau (MH RK), Pūlou (PK NS); Other Polynesian - Fau (SAM); COMMENT: Mitiaro - both ‘Au for kiri‘au; ‘Au Mara is heavier and ideal for outrigger and is spiny after removing bark; ‘Au Ango is lighter and not spiny under the bark.

GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION: NATIVE Africa - Asia - Pacific islands - ?Americas

COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Native OR Polynesian Introduced and naturalised; S.Group - very common; N.Group - rare to occasional; Land, lowlands - mountains (++++)

SIGNIFICANCE LIST: Medicine, Material (Fibre, Wood); Invasive - moderate, Weed - moderate

KEY FEATURES: Sprawling tree to 15m. LEAVES alternate, heart-shaped, large, to 30x25cm, base lobed, tip sharp, topside glossy dark green, underside dull pale green. FLOWER small terminal clusters; large, 7x7cm(LxØ), open at night with 5 large petals – yellow, next day turning red and discarded. FRUIT ovoid, 2cmØ, within 5 long sepals. SEEDS kidney-shaped, to 5mmL; float in seawater and viable for months.

Enlarged Image of 'Hibiscus tiliaceus'

Cook Islands Distribution

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Southern Group: Present    Makatea: Present

Northern Group: Present

Key to Symbols

Pests & Hosts

Relationship Pests
Herbivorous pest Adoretus versutus
Herbivorous pest on Malvaceae, incl. Anomis involuta

Scientific Taxonomy

Hibiscus tiliaceus Linnaeus
SYNONYMS: Hibiscus tiliaceus tiliaceus; Hibiscus tiliaceus hastatus [leaves 3-lobed with base round to acute, Bismarck - Societies, excl. Cooks]; Talipariti tiliaceum; Talipariti tiliaceum var. tiliaceum


More Information

POSITIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Medicine, Material (Fibre, Wood). Comments: MATERIAL: Old wood very fine, attractive, lasting, easily worked, hard and tough. Green through brown to almost black.
NEGATIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Invasive - moderate, Weed - moderate. Comments: Very common in damp volcanic areas from swamplands to mid-elevations. Forms a discontinuous belt around Rarotonga on the low inland slopes and valleys - a result of earlier forest clearance rather than invasion. Requires constant attention near horticultural fields, swamplands, and along streams.

GENERAL NOTE: It seems most likely that Hibiscus tiliaceus originated in Asia and initially spread westward across the Indian Ocean and eastward across the Pacific. One way or the other it very anciently reached the Americas where it now has a variety or subspecies or very closely-related species native on the tropical Pacific and Atlantic coasts. This tree of tropical America is variously named: Hibiscus pernambucensis Arruda 1810, Hibiscus tiliaceus pernambucensis, or Hibiscus tiliaceus var. pernambucensis depending on the interpretation of its status. The interesting case for it as a separate species is found at: The seeds float in seawater and are viable for several months which probably accounts for its wide distribution, although as a very useful tree it was probably also introduced to islands where it was absent. It might be native to the Society Islands, although on Mo'orea it appears in the pollen record in post-settlement samples only indicating that it was a Polynesian Introduction there [Parkes 1997]. However this species is commonly not found in modern pollen records indicating that its absence is not a reliable indicator of its presence in local vegetation. Plants of Hawaii (Wagner notes that it is not possible to decide between native and Polynesian Introduced for Hawaii.

Vouchers & References

Pukapuka: fieldspecimens, 2/2004, ID G.McCormack, and in the pre-Contact chants - an ancient introduction and name shows Eastern Polynesian influence (pers.comm. K.Salisbury).

p.888 Wagner et al.- Flowering Plants of Hawaii
p.559 Neal - In Gardens of Hawaii
p.562 Hortus 3rd
p.571 Royal Hort. Soc. Index of Garden Plants
p.628 Tropica
p.2/416 A.C.Smith - Flora Vitiensis Nova
p.274 I Cheeseman - Flora of Rarotonga
p.73 Wilder - Flora of Rarotonga
p.358d Whistler - Ethnobotany of the Cook Islands
p.97 McCormack/Kunzle - Rarotonga's Mountain Tracks and Plants

Data Update History (information):
zTX, zB02, zM02, zupM03a, zD02, zupD05a

Web Resources

Citation Information

McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at Copy citation to system clipboard
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