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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 27, 2005

Fragrant white hibiscus easy to grow

 •  Home & Garden Calendar

By Heidi Bornhorst

One of our most choice native Hawaiian flowering plants is koki'o ke'o ke'o, the white (with a pink, cream or burgundy middle) fragrant, two-day flowering hibiscus.

The white hibiscus blooms for two days, longer than most varieties.

Advertiser library photo

All this in one plant?

A fragrant hibiscus, when you usually just get a dusting of pollen on your nose and cheek when you try to sniff some perfume out of a typical tropical hibiscus? And it lasts for two days, not the usual open at dawn and droop at dusk?

It's all true, making it a nice landscape selection for hard-working people who only get to see their gardens in the moonlight.

We have native white hibiscus from Kaua'i, O'ahu and Moloka'i. Each is unique and subtly perfumed. There are also different varieties and cultivars, collected from various different microhabitats.

Koki'o ke'o ke'o were brought into cultivation in Hawai'i gardens early on. Native hibiscus are not that hard to grow from seed, cuttings or by grafting and air-layering. They make good "mother" plants and are easy to hybridize.

Hibiscus are easy and fun to cross-pollinate. It's all out there, showing the male and female flower parts, ready to apply pollen to the right spot at the right time.

Breeding hibiscus and making new hybrid varieties was very popular, in a time before TV and radio. Many of our hybrid hibiscus have koki'o ke'o ke'o as mother, grandmother or even great-grandmother plant.

Some of the hybrids had the mother's perfume. There was a double pink with a great fragrance, growing over a pig yard in Kaimuki.

Our "Pink Waterfall" or "Pink Butterfly" hibiscus is a hybrid between koki'o ke'o ke'o and the coral hibiscus, H. schizopetalus, which was brought to Hawai'i from Africa.

Let's get back to basics, though. Grow the original Hawaiian plant. You can choose H. waimeae from Kaua'i. It has a pink center and strong perfume. Our O'ahu white is H. arnottianus.

There are the wonderful varieties of punaluensis, which has durable thick petals and a strong perfume. Some of these were rescued from the path of the bulldozers in north Halawa Valley by the late Jimmy and Nellie Pang. There is also the long-staminal-columned, parviflora from the Wai'anae Mountains, first brought into cultivation at the Honolulu botanical gardens by John Obata.

From Moloka'i we have H. immaculatus, which nearly went extinct. Keith Wooliams, then of Waimea Arboretum, helped save this choice, nearly pure white fragrant Hawaiian hibiscus from plunging off the dry, goat-ravaged cliff into extinction.

Let's all try to grow and perpetuate a true native hibiscus in our gardens today.