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Hibiscus arnottianus
Alternative Botanical Names
Hibiscus immaculatus
Hibiscus punaluuensis

Common Names
Koki'o ke'oke'o
Hau hele
Hawaiian White Hibiscus
Koki'o kea
O'ahu White Hibiscus
Potential or Traditional Uses
Photo of Hibiscus arnottianus flower
Hibiscus arnottianus is a shrub or small tree generally 15 to 20 feet in height though a few individuals will grow to 30 feet tall. These specimens can be up to 20 feet in diameter. Individual plants vary in appearance from open and airy to compact. The leaves are oval with a smooth upper surface and smooth or slightly toothed edges. The leaves are 4 to 6 inches long and often have red veins and stems.

The single white flowers are pinwheel shaped, up to 4 inches across, and borne at the ends of the branches. The staminal column is pink to red (except in subspecies immaculatus which has a white column). The flowers may be slightly pink or may age to pale pink, and are slightly fragrant. In cultivation, Hibiscus arnottianus blooms almost continuously.

Three subspecies are recognized. Subspecies arnottianus from O'ahu has smooth leaves 1 1/2 to 4 inches long. Subspecies immaculatus is native to Moloka'i and has a white staminal column and leaves with rounded teeth. Subspecies punaluuensis is also native to O'ahu. It is robust with leaves 4 to 10 inches long. (Criley 1998; Criley 1999; Koob 1998; Rauch 1997; Wagner 1990)

Habitat and Geographic Range
Hibiscus arnottianus is a Hawaiian endemic plant with one endangered subspecies. It is native to the moist to wet forests of the mountains of Moloka'i and O'ahu. Subspecies arnottianus grows at elevations of 390 to 2500 feet in the Wai'anae and eastern Ko'olau mountains of O'ahu. Subspecies immaculatus is extremely rare and grows in a few valleys on Moloka'i. Subspecies punaluuensis grows in the Ko'olau Mountains at elevations of 650 to 2200 feet. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
The seeds of Hibiscus arnottianus are contained in papery 1/2 to 1 inch capsules which are tanor brown colored when ripe. The capsules split open when mature and the seeds fall to the ground. The fuzzy seeds are 1/8 inch long and yellowish brown.

Hibiscus arnottianus is easy to grow from fresh seed, but it hybridizes easily and the seedlings may differ from the parent plant. To ensure that the seedlings are not hybrids, hand pollinate the flowers. Using a paint brush, transfer pollen to the stigma of the flower and then enclose the flower in a bag until the seed capsule ripens. Bornhorst recommends hand pollination in the early morning. Pick the capsules just as they turn tan and before they open up. Place them in a container such as a paper bag to dry. As the capsule dries, the seeds will fall out or they can be removed manually.

Soak the seeds in water overnight and plant the ones that sink. Woolliams recommends using warm water. Use a well-drained sterile potting mix such as 2 parts potting soil and 1 part perlite and keep the mix moist. The NTBG plant information sheet suggests putting the seeds in the shade. Koob writes that the seeds generally sprout in 2 to 3 weeks. NTBG says that germination generally occurs in 3 to 9 days. (Bornhorst 1991; Koob 1998; NTBG 1992a; NTBG 1992b; Woolliams 1976)

Propagation by Cuttings
Hibiscus arnottianus grow easily from semi-hardwood cuttings. Cuttings 4 to 6 inches long and less than 1/2 inch in diameter should be made from healthy branches without flower buds. Criley recommends terminal or sub-terminal cuttings. NTBG suggests using cuttings that are about 1/4 inch in diameter (pencil-sized) with at least 3 nodes.

Reduce transpiration by removing half of each leaf above the rooting medium and use a medium strength rooting hormone. Koob suggests 0.1% indolebutyric acid (IBA) and 0.05% naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA) (Koob, email). Bornhorst (1996) recommends Rootone F or Hormex #3; Bornhorst (1991) also reports the use of a 1:10 Dip N Gro solution. Criley reports success with rooting hormones having a 2 to 1 ratio of IBA to NAA. In this work, good rooting was obtained with total auxin concentrations ranging from 4,000 parts per million (ppm) to 7,500 ppm.

Use a well-drained medium. Bornhorst (1991) reports success with a mixture of 1 part perlite to 1 part vermiculite. Koob suggests clean sand, perlite, or vermiculite; Criley uses either 1 part coarse perlite to 1 part vermiculite or 100% vermiculite; NTBG recommends a mixture of 1 part potting soil and 1 part perlite.

Keep the cuttings in a humid environment and the rooting medium moist. Put the cuttings under a mist system if possible, but a humidity chamber or hand misting twice a day may be adequate. Bornhorst (1991) reports the successful use of a mist system which was one for 24 seconds every 3 minutes. Criley's work was done using an intermittent mist system which was on for 6 to 8 seconds every 5 or 6 minutes; cuttings were rooted under 30% shade. Cuttings are ready to transplant in 2 to 5 months. (Bornhorst 1991; Bornhorst 1996; Criley 1999; Criley 1998; Koob 1998; NTBG 1992a; NTBG 1992b)

Propagation by Division
Not applicable.
Propagation by Air Layers
Hibiscus arnottianus can be air layered. Use standard air layer technique on a branch that is about 1 inch in diameter. Bornhorst recommends selecting a branch that is growing upright and making the air layer between 1 and 2 feet from the tip of the branch.

To start a plant by air layering, remove the bark and cambium from a 1 inch wide ring of bark. Apply a rooting hormone to the cut surface and cover this with a layer of damp sphagnum moss. Wrap the moss in plastic being sure to secure the ends where it wraps around the branch.

The air layer should be ready to remove from the parent plant in 3 to 5 months. Bornhorst (1996) suggests that root systems from air-layered plants are not as vigorous as those produced by other techniques. (Bornhorst 1991; Bornhorst 1996; Koob 1998)

Propagation by Grafting
Hibiscus arnottianus can easily be grafted. Use a rootstock of the common red, pink waterfall, double pink, or of the cultivar 'Peachglow.' Most grafting techniques will work. The scion (the piece of the desired plant that will be attached to the rootstock) should be 3 to 4 inches long with 2 to 4 nodes. Cut the scion from branches that are semi-mature; both tips and stem sections work well for scion wood. Bornhorst (1991) recommends either wedge or side wedge grafting techniques. (Bornhorst 1991; Bornhorst 1996; Koob 1998)
Propagation by Tissue Culture
No information located to date.
Bornhorst, Heidi L. 1991. Propagating native hibiscus. Horticulture Digest (93):3-5.

Bornhorst, Heidi L. 1996. Growing native Hawaiian plants: a how-to guide for the gardener. Honolulu: The Bess Press. p. 35-36.

Bornhorst, Heidi L., and Fred D. Rauch. 1994. Native Hawaiian plants for landscaping, conservation, and reforestation, Research extension series 142. Honolulu: Hawaii Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. p. 8-9.

Criley, Richard A. 1998. Propagation of indigenous and endemic ornamental Hawaiian plants. Combined Proceedings of the International Plant Propagators' Society 48:669-674.

Criley, Richard A. 1999. Aloha Hawai'i. American Nurseryman 190 (3):50-61.

Koob, Gregory A. 1998. Koki'o ke'oke'o: a native white hibiscus. Hawai'i Horticulture 1 (12):3-6.

Koob, Gregory A. "Rooting Hormone Question." Personal email. Posted 28 January 1999.

National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). 1992a. Koki'o ke'oke'o [Hibiscus arnottianus]. In Native Hawaiian plant information sheets. Lawai, Kauai: Hawaii Plant Conservation Center. National Tropical Botanical Garden. Unpublished internal papers.

National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). 1992b. Koki'o ke'oke'o [Hibiscus arnottianus ssp. immaculatus]. In Native Hawaiian plant information sheets. Lawai, Kauai: Hawaii Plant Conservation Center. National Tropical Botanical Garden. Unpublished internal papers.

Rauch, Fred D., Heidi L. Bornhorst, Rhonda Stibbe, and David Hensley. 1997. Oahu white hibiscus, Ornamentals and Flowers OF-22. Honolulu: Cooperative Extension Service, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa. (Also available as a PDF file at Free CTAHR Publications.)

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. 882-883.

Woolliams, Keith R. 1976. The propagation of Hawaiian endangered species. NATO Conference Series. I, Ecology 1:73-83.

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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:
9 August 2001

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