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Hau – Sea Hibiscus, Coastal Cottonwood


Common name: Sea Hibiscus or Coast Cottonwood

Scientific name: Hibiscus tiliaceus 

Where to Find: Along coastlines and streams 

Status: Canoe (Polynesian Introduction)

Hau can be seen growing in low elevation environments in somewhat dry conditions. It is a true hibiscus, meaning it flowers year round, but blossoms only last for one day. Flowers from this species start as a vibrant yellow, and change to dark red before dropping to the ground. Many varieties of this species can be seen around Hawaiʻi. Some have bright green leaves and others are a mixture of green and white. 

The lightweight wood from this plant is incredibly useful for many aspects of traditional life, making it an ideal species to carry with them when migrating to Hawaiʻi. It can be used to make strong cordage, floats for fishnets, and ‘iako (boom) for outrigger canoes. 

The flowerbuds and sap serve medicinal purposes and can be used as a laxative, and chewing on small leaf buds aids in relieving a dry throat. Hau is also commonly used as firewood. 

Did You Know?
The rapid daily life cycle of the hau blossom often serves as a metaphor for the life and death of man.