Amy Tsuneyoshi
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

The yellow hibiscus flower shrub. (Photos by Amy Tsuneyoshi)
The yellow hibiscus flower shrub. (Photos by Amy Tsuneyoshi)

The native yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei A. Gray), also known as ma‘o hau hele was officially designated as Hawai‘i’s state flower in 1988 (HRS §5-16).

This native endemic hibiscus is only known to grow naturally in dry forests and shrublands in Hawai‘i; however, due to habitat loss, this species is hard to find in the wild and is on the federal endangered species list. Fortunately, it is now commonly cultivated and available for the public to grow in their own landscape. 

Ma‘o hau hele can be a sprawling or upright shrub to a small tree. It produces vibrant yellow flowers that bloom primarily in the winter and spring. The leaves are light green and are shaped like a maple leaf.

Interested in growing the state flower? Here is some helpful growing information.

Soils: Prefers well-draining soil.

Sun: Thrives in full sun and can tolerate partial sun, but the plant may stretch for light and grow leggy and weak if it doesn’t receive enough light. They can tolerate heat, drought and some wind. 

Water: Doesn’t require a lot of water to thrive once established in the ground.

Uses: Hedge, specimen plant.

Pests: Chinese rose beetles can be a pest by munching on the leaves. Provide the plant with overhead light in the early evening. The light will deter the beetles from going to that plant when they emerge from the soil to feed. Mealy bugs are another pest that feed on the new growth and hide in the leaf axils of the plant. They are farmed by ants for the sticky honeydew they produce. Control for ants as well as for the mealy bugs. Other pests that can attack this hibiscus are white flies, spider mites and aphids. Create an unfavorable habitat to prevent the pest population from exploding by removing excess leaf growth to promote good air circulation within the center of the plant. 

Propagation: Can be grown from seeds or rooted from semi-woody cuttings.

Maintenance: As the plant grows bigger and bushier, it may become top heavy and topple over. To prevent this from happening, prune back the branches once it is done flowering. Pruning will keep your plant at the desired height and width and allow for good airflow to deter insects from finding shelter among the leaves. Prune no more than 1/3 of the total plant at a time. When plants are young, they should be pruned to encourage branching to develop a fuller shape. 

Amy Tsuneyoshi grew up playing in the mud and still finds joy in getting her hands in the soil. She grows a variety of edible and ornamental plants in her urban jungle as well as Native Hawaiian plants. She has a degree in horticulture from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and is currently the president of the Friends of Hālawa Xeriscape Garden.


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