Hawaiian Name

Common Names
Variegated Hau, Mahoe, Cottonwood

Scientific Name
Hibiscus tiliaceus



Whole Plant


Many Leaves

Whole Plant


Location On Campus

This plant is located in front of Keawe Gym.


Natural Habitat

In Hawai‘i this plant is found mostly in moist or wet areas, like the windward coasts of Maui. It is also usually found near the ocean or moist places, at elevations as high as 609 m. It is also found in sunlight more often than shady places.

Cultural Information

This plant is an indigenous plant of Hawai‘i. The bark fibers of the hau were used to make strong ropes, net bags, tapa, shark nooses and sandals. The trunks were used to make canoes, weapons, tools, fishing gear, games, strainers, and for rituals, ceremonies and healing. Flowers of the tree were used for medicine. They were eaten to cure dry throat. Sap taken from the tree was used as a laxative, and was also used to reduce pain on a woman in labor.

Plant Description


  • Tap roots
  • They run deep sunken into the ground
  • Brown in color


  • Woody stem
  • Whitish substance on new shoots of plant
  • Grayish black bark
  • Stem is solid and hard
  • Gets to be about 360 cm long
  • Rough texture
  • Grows mostly on the ground when it is a shrub
  • Also grows straight up when it is a tree
  • Bark was used to make rope
  • Wood used to make net floats


  • Simple leaves
  • Heart shaped
  • Tricolored: colors are purple, green, and white
  • 5-30 cm long
  • Smooth and leathery surface
  • Entire margin
  • Pinnate venation


  • Yellow flower the day it blooms
  • Becomes orange or red that night
  • Falls off tree the next morning
  • Dark red in the middle of flower
  • Has five petals
  • 5-7.5 cm long
  • Edible
  • Used as medicine for dry throat


  • Dry capsule fruit
  • Brown in color
  • Small in size
  • Has 3 to 5 seeds inside
  • Oval shaped
  • Rough
  • Not edible


  • Smooth seeds
  • 3 to 5 seeds
  • Shaped like kidney beans
  • Really small in size
  • Not edible
  • Red and brown
  • Up to 4.5 mm long


  • Propagated by cuttings

Interesting Facts:

  • Leaves secrete substance that attracts ants
  • The ants protect the plant from harmful insects
  • Ants also drink the nectar

Web Site Links

Campus Plants- Page 12 

This site is where you can find the places where they grow, and uses of the plant.

Hibiscus tiliaceus L.

This site you can find measurements and descriptions of each part of the plant.

Sea Hibiscus 

This site you can find uses of the plant, role of the plant in the habitat, and descriptions of the plant parts.



Campus Plants- page 12. Dr. Gerald Carr. Last Ed. November 18, 2002. University of Hawaii Botany. March 10, 2003 <>

Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawaii. Lynton D. White. 1996. March 13, 2003. <>

Hibiscus tiliaceus L. Dona Paula, 1998. Bioinformatics Centre. March 10, 2003 <>

Kepler, Angela Kay. Hawaiian Heritage Plants. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

Kuck, Loraine E. and Richard C. Long. Hawaiian Flowers and Flowering Trees. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1962.

Sea Hibiscus. Ria Tan, 2001. Sugei Buloh Nature Park. March 12, 2003. <>

Summer Annual Trails. Halleck, Leslie F. 2002. Dallas Arboretum. March 13, 2003. <>

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