Monday, November 30, 2009

Hibiscus waimeae ssp. hannerae

Hibiscus waimeae  | Miniature Hawaiian White Hibiscus, Koki‘o Ke‘oke‘o, White Kauai Rosemallow

There are two white flowered Hibiscus species native to Hawaii; Hibiscus arnottianus and Hibiscus waimeae. Both species (and respective subspecies) are known locally as koki‘o ke‘oke‘o and are among the few members of the genus with fragrant flowers. The rosa-sinensis hybrids that have these species in their ancestry will sometimes retain the fragrance to one degree or another.

Hibiscus waimeae is a small, gray-barked tree up to 9m tall, found on Kaua‘i in somewhat drier forests around Waimea Canyon and nearby valleys. The upper surface of the leaves is light green while the lower surface is covered with fine hair which makes it appear grayer. The single flowers last only a day. They are white upon opening in the morning and fade to pink by the afternoon. The staminal column is pink to crimson.

There are two subspecies of Hibiscus waimeae.
has larger leaves and smaller flowers (about 5cm). This subspecies is rare and occurs only in Kaua'i's northwestern valleys of Hanakapi'ai, Limahuli, and Kalihi. Reverend John Mortimer Lydgate collected Hibiscus waimeae ssp. hannerae on Kauai in 1913, and more than 60 years passed before it was collected again, in 1978, by Perlman. Otto and Isa Degener named Lydgate’s collection as a variety of H. waimeae in honor of Mrs. Ruth Knudsen Hanner, a supporter of their work on Kauai (Degener and Degener 1962). David M. Bates, the author of the current treatment of the Hawaiian members of the family, elevated the plant to subspecies rank (Bates 1989, 1990).

ssp. waimeae has larger flowers and is found from Waimea Canyon to the western and southwestern ocean-facing valleys of Kaua'i at elevations of 2,000 to 3,000 feet.

Reference: Hibiscus waimeae ssp hannerae, native to the wet windward valleys of Kaua'i, was thought to be extinct. It had been last seen in the 1920’s in Wainiha Valley, in an area that was now completely overgrown with alien plants. In 1977, Chipper Wichman and Steve Perlman found some plants of this extremely rare Hawaiian Hibiscus at the base of a waterfall in a remote valley in the Limahuli Preserve on Kaua'i. We took a specimen to Dr. Harold St. John at the bishop Museum and verified it’s identity. We were all estatic to find that this wonderful miniature white Hibiscus, with it’s dark pink staminal column and light fragrance, still exixts in Hawaii.

   Growing Native Hawaiian Plants: A How-to Guide for the Gardener
   By Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst
   Published by Bess Press, 2005