Hibiscus tiliaceus (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Hibiscus tiliaceus L.


Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 694 (1753).
Family: Malvaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 80, 96

Vernacular names

  • Beach hibiscus, bladder ketmia, cotton tree, cottonwood, Hawaiian tree hibiscus, lagoon hibiscus, linden hibiscus, sea hibiscus, tree hibiscus, wild cotton tree (En).
  • Bois de liège, liège des Antilles, purau (Fr).
  • Algodão da praia, uacima da praia (Po).
  • Mtakawa (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Hibiscus tiliaceus is distributed in coastal areas throughout the tropics of Africa, America, Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Uses

The bark fibre of Hibiscus tiliaceus is widely used for making cordage and fishing lines and nets. In DR Congo fine stems are woven into mats. In Madagascar the fibre is also used for textiles and the bark for making bark cloth. In South-East Asia the bark fibre is used for making good quality ropes also used for caulking boats, and the leaves are used for wrapping food.

The wood is mainly suitable for light construction and cabinet work. It is also used for tool handles, and has been applied for ship and boat building (frames and keels). It is suitable for the manufacture of plywood, hardboard and paper and is used as fuelwood. In Gabon it is made into floats. Hibiscus tiliaceus is used in living fences and windbreaks, as a shade tree and as a support for climbing crops. It is widely planted to reforest eroded land, especially along seashores. Various pink- and white-flowered and purple-leaved varieties are widely planted as ornamentals.

In Gabon the leaf is credited with emollient properties. In Tanzania a root decoction is drunk as a tonic and as a cure for hypertension, sickle cell anaemia and irregular menstruation. In Madagascar an infusion of the flowers is drunk to solve respiratory problems.

Properties

The bark fibre is similar in quality to that of jute and it becomes stronger after being soaked in water. Paper made from Hibiscus tiliaceus pulp is of low quality as the fibres are short (0.7–1.3 mm). The rough surface of the underside of the leaves permits the attachment of fungal mycelia and is ideal for promoting homogeneous fermentation of products such as ‘tempeh’ (made of soybean).

The wood has a density of about 550 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. The rates of shrinkage from green to 12% moisture content are low: 1.2% radial and 2.8% tangential.

The seed contains 2.2% oil. The oil contains malvalic acid and sterculic acid, which are cyclopropenoid fatty acids known to cause physiological disorders in animals.

Hibiscus tiliaceus contains sesquiterpenoid quinones and lapachol. The anthers contain gossypetin glucosides with antibacterial activity, gossypitrin and gossytrin. An acetone extract of the leaves showed antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus. Antioxidant activities have been reported for aqueous extracts of the flowers.

Description

Shrub or small tree up to 15 m tall; stem and branches glabrous to densely stellate-pubescent, becoming brown-grey with lenticels. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules lanceolate to narrowly ovate, up to 3.5 cm long, early falling; petiole 6–15(–17) cm long; blade ovate to orbicular, unlobed or rarely 3-lobed, 3–22 cm × 3–23 cm, base cordate, apex acuminate or rounded, margin entire or finely toothed, upper surface glabrous or sparsely stellate-pubescent, lower surface glabrous or sparsely stellate-tomentose, 5–9-veined from the base, the principal veins with a nectary near the base below. Flowers in terminal 3–6-flowered cymes, bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 0.5–2 cm long, articulated at base; epicalyx cup-shaped, with 10 teeth up to 5 mm long; calyx lobes lanceolate, up to 18 mm long, fused at base for 1/3 of their length, with prominent gland on each lobe; petals free, obovate, 4–7 cm × 1–2 cm, yellow with dark red base; stamens numerous, united into a column up to 2.5 cm long; ovary superior, 5-celled, style with 5 branches. Fruit an ovoid to ellipsoid capsule up to 3 cm long, densely soft grey-hairy, many-seeded. Seeds reniform, c. 4 mm × 2 mm, brown. Seedling with epigeal germination; cotyledons rounded.

Other botanical information

Hibiscus comprises c. 200 species, mainly in the tropics and subtropics; many of them grown as ornamentals. Hibiscus tiliaceus is closer to Azanza and Thespesia genera than to other members of the genus Hibiscus, which may lead to its separation from Hibiscus. The species is very polymorphic and has been divided into 7 subspecies, differing by the size of the epicalyx, the form and hairiness of the leaves, and the hairiness of the seeds. Hibiscus tiliaceus subsp. elatus (Hochr.) Borss.Waalk. (stout habit and large flowers) is the subspecies native to the coastal regions of West Africa and eastern tropical America.

Growth and development

Hibiscus tiliaceus is a short-day plant. It is fast-growing and plants from cuttings flower and produce seeds after 270–365 days, while those from seedlings bear their first mature fruits at about 2–3 years. In southern Africa flowering is in September–February, and fruiting in September–March. Flowers are pollinated by insects and birds. The fruits ripen 5–7 weeks after pollination. The seeds can float in sea water for several months and are commonly found along shores.

The plant has a widely spreading, superficial root system. Association of the roots with myccorhiza has been confirmed in a number of cases with a significant effect on production of inoculated plants. Root nodules have been observed in the Solomon Islands, where it is purposely planted for soil restoration, but atmospheric nitrogen fixation has not been confirmed.

Ecology

Hibiscus tiliaceus occurs in coastal regions with an average annual rainfall of 900–2500 mm, usually near the high tidemark but sometimes at higher altitudes. It is recorded to be fairly tolerant to drought. Hibiscus tiliaceus is adapted to a wide range of soils, from light to heavy textured ones, acidic to alkaline (pH 5–8.5; optimum: 6–7) and is salt tolerant. It prefers sandy soils rich in organic matter, able to retain moisture.

Hibiscus tiliaceus grows in mangrove vegetation along sandy shores and tidal creeks, in East Africa and tropical Asia often in association with Barringtonia spp. It sometimes occurs further inland along rivers and lakes. It is commonly naturalised in disturbed forest areas, fallow or degraded cultivated lands, grazing lands, and around villages.

Propagation and planting

Propagation is usually with stem and branch cuttings, but seed may also be used. The germination rate is generally around 50% or higher when seeds are sown directly in the field. The fruits should be harvested from the tree just before turning brown. They are air-dried in paper bags to avoid seeds being lost when the fruits split open. Seeds are removed after a few days by shaking and immediate scarification and sowing is recommended. The seeds germinate 2–4 weeks after sowing in trays. Seedlings are planted out into pots when 5 cm tall, and into the field after 5–6 months when they are about 25 cm tall and 1 cm in diameter. This should be done in the rainy season. For direct planting of cuttings in the field, cuttings 20–45 cm long and 1–3 cm in diameter are recommended. It is important that the lower part of the cuttings is ‘wounded’ with a sharp knife, to promote side rooting, strengthen the root structure and make the future trees more resistant to winds. If direct plantation is not possible after collection, cuttings can be stored upright in a container with water and kept in the shade. Inoculation of planting material with mycorrhiza helps to improve phosphorus supply. To establish fences, branch cuttings 2–3 m long should be planted as soon as collected, by burying about 1/3 of their length.

Management

Cuttings establish in about 4 months, and in dry conditions they should be watered once or twice a week. Regular weeding is necessary. Mulching is useful to control weeds around plants. Hibiscus tiliaceus, especially when propagated from branch cuttings, is very competitive and resistant to competition of grasses and other species. Once established, little care is needed. Hibiscus tiliaceus coppices readily and, when cut back, produces many long, vigorous shoots with a high fibre production. Where trees regenerate by layering, it can form dense thickets over large areas.

Diseases and pests

Few pests and diseases have been reported on natural populations of Hibiscus tiliaceus. Like other Hibiscus species, it is a host for pests and diseases of closely related crops such as cotton (Gossypium spp.).

Handling after harvest

Fibre extraction is easy: bark strips are cut and dried in the sun for several days, after which the cork is beaten out and the remaining fibrous material is twisted or plaited into rope.

Genetic resources

Some Hibiscus tiliaceus accessions are kept in Bangladesh and in the United States. The species itself is not under threat and the propagation ability and the habit of the species make it difficult to eradicate once it has become established.

Breeding

Hybridization of Hibiscus tiliaceus with other Hibiscus species probably occurs in the wild and would be a possible method to generate more productive lines with desired characteristics.

Prospects

Hibiscus tiliaceus will probably remain a very useful multi-purpose plant in coastal areas, but the use and trade of the fibre are unlikely to increase in the near future. Hibiscus tiliaceus has the capacity to improve soil fertility and organic matter content during fallow. The rooting system makes the species a good soil stabilizer.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • Chhabra, S.C., Mahunnah, R.L.A. & Mshiu, E.N., 1990. Plants used in traditional medicine in eastern Tanzania. 3. Angiosperms (Euphorbiaceae to Menispermaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 28: 255–283.
  • Elevitch, C.R. & Thomson, L.A.J., 2006. Hibiscus tiliaceus (beach hibiscus). [Internet] In: Elevitch, C.R. (Editor). Species profiles for Pacific Island agroforestry. Permanent Agriculture Resources, Holualoa, HI, United States. http://agroforestry.net/ tti/H.tiliaceus-beach-hibiscus.pdf . August 2011.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Undang A. Dasuki, 2001. Hibiscus L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 297–303.
  • Verdcourt, B. & Mwachala, G.M., 2009. Malvaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. & Ghazanfar, S.A. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 169 pp.
  • Wiselius, S.I., 1998. Hibiscus L. In: Sosef, M.S.M., Hong, L.T. & Prawirohatmodjo, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(3). Timber trees: Lesser-known timbers. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 289–292.

Other references

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
  • Chu, C.-Y. & Lee, M.-J., 2004. Effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Acaulospora scrobiculata on growth of Hibiscus tiliaceus seedlings. Airiti Library 37(1): 37–47.
  • Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
  • Exell, A.W. & Meeuse, A.D.J., 1961. Malvaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 2. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 420–511.
  • Gaydou, E.M. & Ramanoelina, A.R.P., 1984. Cyclopropenoic fatty acids of Malvaceae seed oils by gas-liquid chromatography. Fette, Seifen, Anstrichmittel 86(2): 82–84.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1958. Malvaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 335–350.
  • Kumar, S., Kumar, D. & Rakash, O., 2008. Evaluation of antioxidant potential, phenolic and flavonoid contents of Hibiscus tiliaceus flowers. Electronic Journal of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Chemistry 7(4): 2863–2871.
  • Marais, W. & Friedmann, F., 1987. Malvacées. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Familles 51–62. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Office de la Recherche Scientifique Outre-Mer, Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 57 pp.
  • Nout, M.J.R., Martoyuwono, T.D., Bonné, P.C.J. & Odamtten, G.T., 1992. Hibiscus leaves for the manufacture of usar, a traditional inoculum for tempe. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 58(3): 339–346.
  • Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
  • SEPASAL, 2011. Hibiscus tiliaceus. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. http://www.kew.org/ ceb/sepasal/. August 2011.
  • van Borssum-Waalkes, J., 1966. Malesian Malvaceae revised. Blumea 14: 1–251.
  • van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P., 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 536 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Wiselius, S.I., 1998. Hibiscus L. In: Sosef, M.S.M., Hong, L.T. & Prawirohatmodjo, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(3). Timber trees: Lesser-known timbers. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 289–292.

Author(s)

  • E.G. Achigan Dako, PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya

Correct citation of this article

Achigan-Dako, E.G., 2011. Hibiscus tiliaceus L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 11 April 2019.