In The Garden
This hibiscus species dazzles while in bloom
Hibiscus koki'o sub species st. johnianus
Hibiscus St. John's or St. John's Hibiscus
Description: If you can find a more beautiful hibiscus species than this, I'd like to see it. I don't know what it is about Hibiscus St. John's that draws me to it, but to see one in bloom is to witness a truly a spectacular event. I'm not exaggerating when I say "event" because once you lay eyes on it, you will count the days before the next bud blooms. Others who own this plant have said the same. A close friend just told me that her mom is outside every morning taking pictures of the flowers when her St. John's Hibiscus is in bloom.
This gorgeous shrub is generally 4 to 10 feet tall. It has dark, glossy green leaves, with some varieties having reddish petioles that connect the leaves to the stem. But, of course, its most distinguishing feature is its amazing flower. They are by far the most striking of hibiscus, with bright orange to orange-red flowers that are so vivid, they almost appear fluorescent.
Distribution: In the wild, this rare endemic subspecies of Hibiscus kokio is found only in the coastal valleys of northwestern Kauai and nowhere else in the world. I've seen these plants in the wild and they stand out so much against any backdrop, they almost look fake, as if they don't belong -- but in fact, they do.
Landscape use: Whether used as a hedge or specimen plant, the St. John's Hibiscus makes a wonderful addition to any garden. It responds very well to pruning and requires little water once established. As with all hibiscus, keep an eye out for the usual pests such as aphids, whitefly and mealy bugs, but don't let them discourage you -- it is well worth the trouble to experience the beauty of these flowers. The plants are available for a limited time at Home Depot (Iwilei only) for $11.97.
Also: The Hibiscus St. Johnianus is a highly variable plant. Flower colors range from dark orange-red to bright orange-yellow and there is even a rare pure yellow variety. Outside of our state flower, the endangered ma'ohauhele (Hibiscus brackenridgei), this is the only other pure yellow native hibiscus. Although hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) is also considered to be a yellow flowered native hibiscus, its flowers are not pure yellow -- it has a large maroon center and the whole flower tends to turn pink-orange as the day goes on. The flowers of St. John's and the brackenridgei stay true to their yellow color until they fall off the plant.
co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 295-7777 or e-mail Rick.firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick Barboza co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 295-7777 or e-mail Rick.CK.Barboza@gmail.com