Scientific Name: Hibiscus kokio subsp. st.johnianus
Native Hawaiian Shrub – Endemic – Rare
Description: Ok, if you can find a more beautiful Hibiscus species than this one I gotta see it to believe it. I don’t know what it is about this flower that draws me to it but it is truly a spectacular event to witness. And don’t think that I’m over exaggerating when I say event because once you see it you count the days before the next flower bud blooms, trust me, other people that own this plant tell me the same thing. In fact someone just told me that they saw this flower blooming in the store from a distance and had to walk across the garden department just to see it up close. It drew her in, spell bounded by its beauty. This is a gorgeous shrub that is generally 4-10 ft tall. It has dark glossy green leaves with some varieties having reddish petioles that connect the leaves to the stem. But of course the most distinguishing feature of this plant is its amazing flowers. By far I feel they are the most striking of hibiscus, it has bright orange to orange red flowers that are so vivid, they almost look fluorescent.
Distribution: In the wild this rare endemic subspecies of Hibiscus kokio (typically a red hibiscus) is only found in the coastal valleys of Northwestern Kaua’i and nowhere else in the world. I’ve seen these plants growing in the wild and they stand out so much against any backdrop they almost look fake and as if they don’t belong when in fact they do.
Cultural Uses: Flowers used in lei as well as for a laxative. Ironic how something so beautiful is used to make something so un-beautiful (and I’m not talking about the lei).
Landscape Uses and Care: Whether used as a hedge or specimen plant, the St. John’s Hibiscus makes a wonderful addition to any garden. It responds very well to pruning and requires little water once established in the ground. Like all hibiscus, keep an eye out for the usual pests like aphids, whitefly and mealy bugs but don’t let them discourage you from getting one you’ll be more sorry if you don’t get to experience the flowers for yourself.
Additional Informational: The Hibiscus st. johnianus is a highly variable plant. Flower colors range from dark orange-red to bright orange-yellow and there is even pure yellow variety which is extremely rare. Outside of our state flower the endangered ma’ohauhele (Hibiscus brackenridgei), this is the only other pure yellow native hibiscus. Although hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) is also considered to be a yellow flowered native hibiscus, it’s flowers are not pure yellow since it has a large maroon center and the whole flower tends to turn pink-orange as the day goes on, the two above stay true to their yellow color until they fall off the plant.Kokio