Lagunaria patersonia

Distribution Map
Family: Malvaceae
Distribution: North-east Queensland, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.
Common Name: Norfolk Island hibiscus
Derivation of Name: Lagunaria... After Andreas de Laguna a Spanish botanists and physician of the 16th century.
patersonia... After Colonel William Patterson, soldier, explorer and Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales.
Conservation Status: Not considered to be at risk in the wild on Norfolk Island or the mainland. Regarded as endangered on Lord Howe Island.

General Description:

Lagunaria is a small genus of one or two species. Until recently Lagunaria was regarded as monotypic with L.patersonia being the sole member of the genus but with two recognised subspecies:

  • subsp. patersonia from Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island
  • subsp. bracteata from coastal and inland areas of north Queensland.

The two subspecies differ in that subsp. patersonia is more robust in habit and has larger, scaly leaves. The two subspecies also differ in their habitats with subsp.patersonia generally occurring in rainforest while subsp. bracteata is found in non-rainforest areas often along rivers and creeks.

The Queensland population has recently (2006) been re-classified as a separate species (L.queenslandica). However, until it become more clear as to whether this re-classification will be generally accepted, the earlier classification has been retained here.

Lagunaria patersonia
Lagunaria patersonia
Photo: Brian Walters

Lagunaria patersonia is well known in cultivation both in Australia and overseas. On mainland Australia it has apparently become naturalised in a number of areas such as the central coast and north-eastern areas of New South Wales. The naturalised populations are apparently subsp.patersonia.

Note that there appears to be some confusion as to whether the specific name is "patersonia" or "patersonii" but the former seems to be more widely accepted.

Norfolk Island hibiscus is a medium to large tree which can reach about 12-20 metres in height. It has dense, greyish-green leaves which are oval shaped to about 100 mm long and covered in soft hairs when young. The pink flowers are of typical hibiscus shape and appear in the leaf axils in spring and early summer. They are generally a pink to mauve but deeper coloured forms are in cultivation. The flowers are followed by brown capsules containing a number of black seeds. The capsules contain white fibres, which are can be very irritating if they get on the skin. These give rise to other common names for the plant such as Itch Tree and Cow Itch Tree.

Norfolk Island hibiscus has proven to be an adaptable and hardy plant for a range of climates and soils. It is widely grown in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate areas of both coast and inland. It is hardy to salt spay and is therefor excellent for coastal gardens. It performs best in well drained soils in a sunny position.

Propagation from seed is relatively easy. No special pretreatment is needed but care needs to be taken in removing seed from the capsules so that the irritant fibres do not come in contact with the skin. Cuttings also strike readily.

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