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Hibiscus brackenridgei
Alternative Botanical Names
None found.
Common Names
Ma'o hau hele
Potential or Traditional Uses
Photo of Hibiscus brackenridgei flowers
Hibiscus brackenridgei can sometimes become a small tree growing up to 30 feet tall. In the garden, it is most often a 3 to 15 foot tall shrub with a diameter of 8 to 15 feet. Young plants have smooth tan trunks; the trunks of older plants have a wrinkled appearance. The fuzzy leaves have toothed edges, 3, 5, or 7 lobes, and are up to 6 inches long and equally wide.

The large flowers are 4 to 6 inches in diameter. They are yellow, generally with a maroon center, and form singly or in small clusters at the ends of the branches. The staminal column is yellow. Garnett reports that the flowers open between 2 and 4 p.m. and close between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Spring through early summer is the main blooming season with occasional flowers during the rest of the year. Garnett reports a flowering season of January through March for the subspecies found on O'ahu. (Bornhorst 1996; Criley 1998; Criley 1999; Garnett 1988; Koob 1999; Wagner 1990)

Habitat and Geographic Range
Hibiscus brackenridgei is an endangered Hawaiian endemic plant and it is the official state flower of Hawai'i. It is native to dry forests and shrub lands at elevations from 400 to 2,600 feet. It is found on all the main Hawaiian islands except Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe, but it is not common in any location. (Wagner 1990)
Propagation by Seeds
The seeds of Hibiscus brackenridgei are contained in 3/8 to 3/4 inch oval capsules. The capsule is covered with soft hairs. It is dry and tan when mature and opens to release the seeds. The seeds are 1/8 inch long, kidney-shaped, and covered with fine hairs.

The best germination rate is obtained from fresh seed. Hibiscus hybridize 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 (1991) recommends hand pollination in the early morning. The germination rate for Hibiscus brackenridgei seeds decreases significantly after one year. Soaking the seeds is not necessary, but it will speed up germination. Soaked seeds germinate in about one week.

Bornhorst (1996) states that Hibiscus brackenridgei can be grown from seed, but cuttings are faster. Garnett, on the other hand, feels that seed propagated plants are more vigorous. Woolliams reports that Hibiscus brackenridgei subsp. mokuleianus becomes an 18 foot tall tree when grown from seed, but is a 6 to 8 foot tall shrub when grown from cuttings. (Bornhorst 1990; Bornhorst 1991; Bornhorst 1996; Garnett 1988; Koob 1999; Wagner 1990; Woolliams 1980)

Propagation by Cuttings
Hibiscus brackenridgei can be grown from cuttings if rooting hormones are used. Criley reports success with rooting hormones having a 2 to 1 ratio of indolebutyric acid (IBA) to naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA). Successful total auxin concentrations for this plant ranged from 4,000 parts per million (ppm) to 6,000 ppm. Bornhorst (1991) reports the use of a 1:10 Dip N Gro solution.

Bornhorst recommends cuttings 4 to 6 inches long and less than 1/2 inch in diameter should be made from healthy branches without flower buds. Garnett recommends that cuttings should be at least 1/4 inch in diameter.

A loose, well-drained medium should be used such as either 1 part coarse perlite to 1 part vermiculite or 100% vermiculite. The rooting medium should be kept moist. 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.

At Waimea Arboretum, cuttings treated with rooting hormone and rooted under intermittent mist were ready to be potted up in 8 weeks. (Bornhorst 1991; Criley 1998; Criley 1999; Garnett 1988; Woolliams 1980)

Propagation by Division
Not applicable.
Propagation by Air Layers
Hibiscus brackenridgei can be air layered. 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. (Bornhorst 1991)

Propagation by Grafting
Most grafting techniques will work. Use a rootstock of common red or pink waterfall hibiscus. 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 recommends either wedge or side wedge grafting techniques. (Bornhorst 1991)
Propagation by Tissue Culture
No information located to date.
Bornhorst, Heidi L. 1990. Introduction to xerophytic native Hawaiian plants. The Bulletin of the National Tropical Botanical Garden 20 (3):49-54.

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. 46-47.

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.

Garnett, William B. 1988. Plant Profile: Hibiscus brackenridgei A. Gray subsp. mokuleianus (M. Roe) D. Bates. Notes from Waimea Arboretum & Botanical Garden 15 (2):6-7.

Koob, Gregory A. 1999. Hawaii's State Flower: Ma'o Hau Hele. Hawai'i Horticulture 2 (10):5-7.

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. 883-884.

Woolliams, Keith. 1980. Oahu yellow hibiscus found. Notes from Waimea Arboretum & Botanical Garden 7 (1):9, 12-13.

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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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