Hibiscus tiliaceus: Sea hibiscus

Family: Malvaceae
Common name: Sea hibiscus, Beach hibiscus, Coastal hibiscus, Green cottonwood, Coastal cottonwood, Native rosella, Native hibiscus, Kurrajong, Sea rosemallow, Balibago, Malabago, Malbago, Maribago, Cottonwood hibiscus, Cottontree, Mahoe, Sea coast rosemallow, Tree mallow, Yellow mallow tree, Lagoon Hibiscus, Bladder Ketmia, Norfolk Hibiscus, Talipariti tiliaceum

A beautiful spreading tree with heart-shaped leaves and bright yellow flowers, Sea hibiscus is seen all over India especially in coastal areas. Sea hibiscus trees grow to a height 8-10 meters with a well-branched trunk, about 15 cms in diameter.

Leaves are bright green and glossy, beautifully heart-shaped and about 10-18 cms long. The tree flowers almost throughout the year in tropical countries, with bright yellow flowers that are typical of the Hibiscus family of Malvaceae.

The flowers have 5 petals with a deep red center, having prominent stamens and stigma. Sea hibiscus flowers are yellow in the morning, gradually turning orange and red towards evening, after which they fall away.

There is a variant called Hibiscus rubra with red-tinted leaves. Almost all the flowers produce fruits that are oval in shape, about 3 cms in diameter, splitting open into 5 parts on maturity. The fruits are initially green, later turning yellow and then brown before they release the seeds.

Each compartment contains about three seeds that are brownish-black, 3-5 mm long. The fruits are capable of floating for long distances, thus helping the tree occupy new areas. These trees are used for reforestation, preventing soil erosion, as living fences and hedges.

Sea hibiscus trees are quite sturdy and low maintenance. They grow well in beaches, mangroves, riverbanks, thriving in muddy soil, but they can also grow in relatively dry areas, sandy soil, pastures, wastelands, and roadsides too. They are mostly grown as ornamental trees but they also yield good wood and fiber from their bark.

The wood is easy to plane and is considered good quality construction wood. It is used for making canoes, rafters, fishing rods, fishnet frames, furniture, tools, hulls, posts, and furniture.

The bark fiber is used for making cords, ropes, mats, sandals, harnesses for climbing trees, sewing tape, bandages, dancing skirts, and even fine cloth which is made by beating thin strips of bark with a mallet. Dried branches are also burnt for fuel.

Sea hibiscus also has medicinal uses, in the treatment of cough, sore throat, bronchitis, sores, cuts, wounds, boils, swellings, skin diseases, tuberculosis, stomach pain, eye infection, menstrual disorders, fractures, muscle sprain, and gonorrhea.

Propagation is through seeds and grafting.