Hibiscus tiliaceus, also known as the Sea Hibiscus, Beach Hibiscus, or Coastal Cottonwood, is a species of flowering tree belonging to the Malvaceae family. It is native to coastal and tropical environments in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and the Pacific Islands. Hibiscus tiliaceus can tolerate a variety of soil conditions, including sandy, rocky, and clayey soils, and is often found growing along coastlines, riverbanks, and the edges of mangrove forests.
Hibiscus tiliaceus typically grows up to 4-10 meters in height, with some specimens reaching up to 15 meters. The tree has a straight or slightly twisted trunk with smooth, light brown to greyish bark that becomes fissured and rough with age. The tree is characterized by its heart-shaped, dark green leaves with a slightly serrated margin and a pointed tip. The leaves are arranged alternately along the branches and have a soft, velvety texture.
The tree produces large, showy, funnel-shaped flowers that are typically yellow or orange with a dark red center. These flowers are bisexual and are pollinated by insects, particularly bees. The flowers last for only one day, opening in the morning and changing color as they age, from yellow to orange or red before falling off the tree. Following pollination, the flowers develop into small, oval or round capsules that contain several seeds.
Hibiscus tiliaceus plays a vital role in the coastal ecosystem, providing habitat and food for various species of birds, fish, and other wildlife. The tree’s root system helps to prevent soil erosion and stabilize shorelines.
The wood of Hibiscus tiliaceus is lightweight, soft, and easily workable, making it suitable for various purposes such as construction, boat building, and the production of paper pulp. The bark of the tree is fibrous and has been traditionally used for making rope, twine, and mats. The flowers, leaves, and roots of the tree have been used in traditional medicine for treating various ailments, such as fever, headache, and skin diseases. Hibiscus tiliaceus is also grown as an ornamental tree in gardens and parks due to its attractive flowers and foliage.
Despite its wide distribution, Hibiscus tiliaceus faces threats from habitat loss due to deforestation, coastal development, and climate change. Conservation efforts are necessary to protect this unique tree and the vital ecosystems it supports.