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Thespesia populnea
Alternative Botanical Names
Hibiscus populneus
Common Names
Portia tree
Potential or Traditional Uses
Photo of Thespesia populnea
Thespesia populnea is a fast growing small tree or large shrub. It generally reaches a height of 30 feet with a spread of 12 feet. The shiny green leaves are generally oval or triangular in shape and range in size from 2 to 12 inches long. The hibiscus-like 2 to 3 inch flowers are yellow with a maroon center. (Wagner 1990)
Habitat and Geographic Range
Thespesia populnea is probably indigenous to Hawai'i, but it may have been introduced by the early Polynesians. It is found throughout the tropics in coastal areas. In Hawai'i, it has been documented on all the main islands except Kaho'olawe at elevations ranging from sea level to 900 feet. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
The leathery seed capsules of Thespesia populnea are spherical and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The grayish brown seeds are 1/4 to 1/2 inch long. The capsules generally open at maturity releasing about eight seeds. The capsules can also be opened by hand and the seeds removed.

The seeds should be scarified (the seed coat penetrated). This can be done using sandpaper, nail clippers, or by cracking with a hammer. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the inner part of the seed. The seeds do not require soaking. The seeds should be planted in sterile potting mix at a depth of about twice the diameter of the seed. Germination takes 14 to 28 days. (NTBG 1996; Wagner 1990)

Propagation by Cuttings
No information located to date.
Propagation by Division
Not applicable.
Propagation by Air Layers
No information located to date.
Propagation by Grafting
No information located to date.
Propagation by Tissue Culture
No information located to date.
National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). 1996. Ten native Hawaiian trees for urban landscapes. Lawai, Hawaii: Education and Plant Science Departments. National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Wagner, Warren L., Darrel R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer. 1990. Manual of the flowering plants of Hawai'i. 2 vols., Bishop Museum Special Publication 83. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press and Bishop Museum Press. p. 901-902.

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The image in this record is used with permission from Dr. Gerald Carr's Web site "Hawaiian Native Plants" at

Last updated:
31 March 2000

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