Thespesia populnea (L.) Sol. ex Corrêa

Etymology Genus Marvellous or divine, from Greek "Thespios", referring to the change in colour of the flower
Species Similar looking to trees of the Poplar genus
Family Malvaceae
Synonyms Abelmoschus acuminatus (Alef.) Müll.Berol, Hibiscus populneus L.
Common Names Portia Tree, Pacific Rosewood
Status Native: Common
Form Tree
Native Distribution Pantropics, China & Japan


Growing up to 20m tall, Thespesia populnea can be found on sandy or rocky beaches, or at the landward side of mangroves (Giesen et al., 2006). It can be easily identified from the heart-shaped leaves with almost white venation. The flowers are yellow but change to purple within 24 hours. 

It bears a close similarity with the Sea Hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum) that is found in the same habitat; with both flowers turning colour upon wilting, and having heart-shaped leaves. However, the Sea Hibiscus have broader and rounder leaf blades, and fainter leaf venations.

Interesting Facts:

The Portia Tree has a wide distribution owning to the buoyant seeds that can survive in seawater for at least 12 months (Giesen et al., 2006).

A species of Cotton Stainer Bug, known as Thespesia Fire-bug (Dysdercus simon), is associated closely with this tree. The larvae feeds exclusively on the exposed seeds of the Portia Tree.

A cultivated tree.

Heart-shaped leaf with white venation.

Yellow flower.

Wilting purple flower.

Fruits with Thespesia Fire-bugs at Coney Island



Giesen W, Wulffraat S, Zieren M &  Scholten L (2006) Mangrove guidebook for Southeast Asia. RAP Publication 2006/07. FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and Wetlands International. Bangkok. 769 pp.

Author: Jake
Posted: 2018-11-12 / Modified: 2018-11-13