In The Garden
Kauai hibiscus produces vivid spectacle
Hibiscus kokio sub species St. Johnianus
Endemic: Kauai only
If you can find a more beautiful hibiscus species, I have got to see it to believe it. I don't know what it is about this flower that draws me to it, but when it blooms it is a truly spectacular event. Don't think that I'm exaggerating when I say "event," because once you see it you'll count the days until the next bud blooms.
Other people who own this plant tell me the same thing. In fact, one woman just told me that she saw this flower blooming in the store from a distance and had to walk across the garden department just to see it up close. It drew her in, spellbound by its beauty.
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 the most distinguishing feature is its amazing flowers, the most striking of all hibiscus. The blooms are bright orange to orange-red and so vivid, they almost look fluorescent.
Distribution: In the wild this rare endemic subspecies of Hibiscus kokio (typically a red hibiscus) 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 well to pruning and requires little water once established in the ground. Like all hibiscus, keep an eye out for the usual pests, such as aphids, whiteflies and mealybugs, but don't let them discourage you from getting one. You'll be more sorry if you don't get to experience the flowers for yourself.
Right now this amazingly beautiful, ultrarare hibiscus is available at Home Depot stores on Oahu and Kauai for $12, or at Hui Ku Maoli Ola native plant nursery for $10. Get them before they become as rare in the stores as they are in the wild!
Additional information: 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 pure yellow variety that is extremely rare.
Outside 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 a yellow flowered native hibiscus, it's flowers are not pure yellow, as it has a large maroon center and the whole flower tends to turn pink-orange as the day goes on. The other two varieties will stay true to their yellow color until they fall off the plant.
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