Herbs & Plants

Thespesia populnea

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Botanical Name : Thespesia populnea
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Thespesia
Species: T. populnea
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Malvales

Alternative Botanical Names: Hibiscus populneus

Common Names:  Commonly known as the Portia Tree.  Indian Tulip Tree, Pacific Rosewood, Seaside Mahoe (in Florida), Surina (the “elegant tree”), Suriya (Sinhala), Bebaru or Baru baru (Malay), Milo or Miro (in many Polynesian languages), Mako?i (Rapanui), Gangaraavi (Telugu), Poovarasu: (Tamil), Poovarasu: (Malayalam), PakuR (Bengali) and Plaksa (Sanskrit).

Habitat: Thespesia populnea is probably indigenous to Hawai’i, but it may have been introduced by the early Polynesians. It is found throughout the tropics in coastal areas. In Hawai’i, it has been documented on all the main islands except Kaho’olawe at elevations ranging from sea level to 900 feet. (Wagner 1990) .However, the Portia Tree is probably native only to the Old World, and may have originated in India.
Description :
Thespesia populnea is species of flowering plant. It is a small tree or arborescent shrub that has a pantropical distribution, found on coasts around the world.The Portia Tree reaches a height of 6–10 m (20–33 ft) tall and a trunk diameter of 20–30 cm (7.9–12 in). It grows at elevations from sea level to 275 m (902 ft) in areas that receive 500–1,600 mm (20–63 in) of annual rainfall. The Portia Tree is able to grow in the wide range of soil types that may be present in coastal environments, including soils derived from quartz (sand), limestone, and basalt; it favors neutral soils (pH of 6-7.4).

Bark: Brown, corrugated. Scaly twigs.

Leaves: Heart-shaped, shiny green, usually ranging in size from 5 cm to 20 cm (2 to 8 inches) long.

Flowers: The cup-shaped hibiscus-like pale yellow flowers are 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 inches), with a dark blotch at the base of the petals . They last for one to two days, turning maroon and then dropping. They are produced intermittently throughout the year in warm climates.

You may click to see the pictures

Fruits and seeds: Capsule is a flattened indehiscent leathery sphere. The grayish brown seeds, 0.7 to 1.2 cm long (1/4 to 1/2 inch). Both the capsules and the hard seeds are buoyant and can be dispersed to very long distances by sea water

You may click to see the pictures: ..>     Indian Tulip Tree :

Leaves & flowers (1)  :

Leaves & flower (2)  :

Cultivation & Propagation:
It grows at elevations from sea level to 275 m (902 ft) in areas that receive 500–1,600 mm (20–63 in) of annual rainfall.  The Portia Tree is able to grow in the wide range of soil types that may be present in coastal environments, including soils derived from quartz (sand), limestone, and basalt; it favors neutral soils (pH of 6-7.4)

The plant is propagated by seeds. The leathery seed capsules of Thespesia populnea are spherical and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The grayish brown seeds are 1/4 to 1/2 inch long. The capsules generally open at maturity releasing about eight seeds. The capsules can also be opened by hand and the seeds removed.

The seeds should be scarified (the seed coat penetrated). This can be done using sandpaper, nail clippers, or by cracking with a hammer. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the inner part of the seed. The seeds do not require soaking. The seeds should be planted in sterile potting mix at a depth of about twice the diameter of the seed. Germination takes 14 to 28 days. (NTBG 1996; Wagner 1990)

Edible Uses :
The leaf and flower buds are said to be edible raw or cooked. The seeds are applied to scabies and other skin diseases, and are rubbed on swollen joints.

Medicinal Uses:
The yellowish juice extracted from young fruits is used to treat insect bites, gonorrhoea, ringworm, and migraine headache , and is also used for fistula, psoriasis, scabies, sprains, and wart removal:

Bioassay test results showed that extracts of fruits and flowers of T. populnea distinctly inhibited the growth of two bacteria:

Traditional medicinal uses: Ground up bark is used to treat skin diseases (India), dysentery and haemorrhoids (Mauritius). Leaves are applied to inflamed and swollen joints (South India). When cut, the young fruit secretes a yellow sticky sap used to treat ringworm and other skin diseases (South India). Roots are used as a tonic. There is some modern investigation of the plant’s effects on high blood pressure:

The roots are used as a tonic… Kirtikar and Basu report that in Mauritius the bark is described as depurative, and as a cure for dysentery and haemorrhoids. Nadkarni says that a decoction of the bark is used for washing skin diseases. Ground bark mixed with coconut oil is also applied to skin diseases… leaves are applied to inflamed and swollen joints. The fruit abounds in a viscid, yellow juice which the natives in South India use as an external application in psoriasis. Many other uses are listed at:

Other Uses:
The heartwood of the Portia Tree is dark reddish brown to chocolate brown and has a specific gravity of 0.55 to 0.89.  It is used to make the thavil, a Carnatic musical instrument of South India. Milo is popular in Hawaii for woodworking (commonly turned into bowls) because of the range of colors expressed (tan, through yellow, to red). Traditionally it was planted in sacred groves and used for religious sculpture throughout eastern Polynesia. In Tahiti, Milo wood is used in the making of the to’ere (slotted wooden drum), used in traditional Tahitian tribal drumming. Mako?i was used for the rongorongo tablets of Easter Island. Since the advent of aluminium-hulled boats in the 20th century, Pitcairners have made regular trips to Henderson Island to harvest miro wood. Usually they only venture to Henderson only once per year, but may make up to three trips if the weather is favorable. Pitcairners carve the wood into curios, from which they derive much of their income. The flower of the Portia Tree played a part in Sri Lanka‘s independence struggle, when it was sold on Remembrance Day by the Suriya-Mal Movement instead of the poppy to aid indigenous ex-servicemen.

The plant also produces rope and dye and is used as a shade tree and as a windbreak.

Fibres, mats, paper and tapa cloth are products of Thespesia populnea:

The bark was used for cordage fiber. The tree also yields tannin, dye, oil, medicine and gum, from various parts of the plant. The wood was skillfully crafted into bowls and into plates, too. The wood is flavorless, because it is lacking in any unpleasant-tasting sap that could contaminate stored food. The wood has an attractive grain that takes to a high polish and, in addition to food utensils and containers, was fashioned into paddles and other carved objects, as well as for an occasional canoe:

Wood used for food containers, slit drums and cabinetry:

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider