Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Thespesia populnea (L.) Correa

Tender tree with heart-shaped leaves, flowers yellow with a purple centre at first, becoming all purple within a day.  To 12m or more.  [RHSD, Hortus].

Horticultural & Botanical History

‘The species is common on the sea shores of many tropical countries, as the West Indies and South America, the Pacific Islands, western Africa, and India.  In the latter country it is largely cultivated along roadsides.  It yields in India a gum, a dye, and an oil, and is valued in pharmacy.  The leaves are employed in Hindoo religious ceremonials.  In Tahiti it is also a sacred tree, and its leaves used in ceremonials as in India.  The wood, which is almost indestructible under water, has been much used in boat building; also used for cabinet work, and in Ceylon for gunstocks.

Fiber. — There are many references to the use of its bark for fiber, but it does not appear to have been specially valued as a fiber plant save in Demerara, where formerly its bast was employed in the manufacture of coffee bags.  In India a strong fiber is derived from its bark, which is used in the rough state for coarse cordage for tying bundles of wood, etc.  It is also used for cordage in Burma.  The fiber, which resembles the better mallow fibers, is very resistant.  As the species is a large tree, its cultivation for fiber could never become an industry.’  [U. S. Department of Agriculture, Report No.9, Useful Fiber Plants of the World, p.311/1897].

Introduced to Britain in 1770.  [JD].  Wight vol.1 pl.8/1840.

History at Camden Park

It was possibly sent as seed from Tahiti by Bidwill and raised by Macarthur.  A single plant was presented to the Sydney Botanic Gardens by William Macarthur on 27th September 1847 [RBGS AB].


Published Jan 13, 2010 - 03:36 PM | Last updated Jul 27, 2010 - 05:10 PM

The figure is a line drawing of leaves, flowers, flower parts and fruits.  Wight vol.1 pl.8, 1840.

Thespesia populnea (L.) Correa | Wight vol.1 pl.8/1840 | BHL

Family Malvaceae
Region of origin

Widespread in tropical regions

  • Hibiscus populneum L.
Common Name

Umbrella tree, Mahoe, Portia oil-nut, Ceylon tulip tree

Name in the Camden Park Record

Thespesia populnea 

Confidence level high