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Thespesia populneoides - (Roxb.) Kostel.

Common Name Tulip Tree; Portia Tree; Pacific Rosewood
Family Malvaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Rocky coasts and occasionally on the inland edge of mangrove swamp[303 ].
Range Coastal regions of the Indian Ocean from Africa to India and Sri Lanka.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Thespesia populneoides Tulip Tree;  Portia Tree; Pacific Rosewood

Thespesia populneoides Tulip Tree;  Portia Tree; Pacific Rosewood
Martin W. Callmander mobot.org


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Thespesia populneoides, or commonly known as Beach Yellow Hibiscus or Pacific Rosewood, is a vigorous shrub or small tree with a dense and broad crown and short and often crooked trunk. It reaches a height of about 20 m and a trunk diameter of up to 60 cm. It is commonly found in coastal regions of the Indian Ocean from Africa to India and Sri Lanka. Established plants are highly tolerant to drought and strong winds. Flowering commence one or two years after planting. Plant parts such as young leaves, flowers, flower buds, and unripe fruits are eaten raw or cooked while the ripe fruits are preserved first then eaten. The plant is also used in traditional medicine as treatment for pleurisy, cholera, colic, fevers, herpes, urinary tract problems, abdominal swellings, hair lice, swollen testicles, rheumatism, coughs, influenza, headaches, skin diseases, hemorrhoids, colds, etc. The bark is a source of tannins. It also yields a strong fiber used for cordage, fishing lines, coffee bags, and for caulking boats. Seed oil can be used in lamps. The wood, fruits, flowers, and leaves all yield dye. Fruits, flowers, and bark also yield gums. The leaves are used as food wrapper. The wood is highly valued for light construction, flooring moulds, musical instruments, utensils, vehicle bodies, boat building, fuel, etc.

Physical Characteristics

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Thespesia populneoides is an evergreen Tree growing to 10 m (32ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Birds.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline and saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Hibiscus populneoides Roxb. Parita populnea (L.) Scop. Thespesia howii S.Y.Hu

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Fruit  Leaves
Edible Uses: Gum

This species is doubtfully distinct from Thespesia populnea, and so should have the same uses as detailed below:- Young leaves - raw or cooked[299 , 301 , 303 , 307 ]. Eaten as a vegetable, they can also be boiled or added to soups[301 , 310 ]. Flowers and flower buds - raw or cooked[301 , 303 , 307 ]. Fruits - preserved and eaten[301 ]. The unripe fruits are eaten raw, boiled or fried as a vegetable[299 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Antibacterial  Antifungal  Antihaemorrhoidal  Antirheumatic  Antirheumatic  Cancer  Carminative  Cholera  
Dysentery  Febrifuge  Hypotensive  Laxative  Malaria  Parasiticide  Poultice  
Purgative  Skin  Urinary

This species is doubtfully distinct from Thespesia populnea, and so should have the same uses as detailed below:- Portia tree is often used in traditional medicine, where the bark, root, leaves, flowers and fruits are all used to treat a range of ailments. There has been some research into its properties, which tends to support these traditional uses. The heartwood contains several sesquiterpenoid quinones, including mansonone D and H, thespone and thespesone, which are known to induce contact dermatitis, to inhibit tumour formation and to have antifungal properties[299 ]. The heartwood and other plant parts contain gossypol[299 ]. The fruits and leaves contain compounds with antibacterial activity, whereas methanolic extracts of the flower buds have shown antifungal activity[299 ]. Ethanol extracts of the flower have shown antihepatotoxic activity[299 ]. Aqueous extracts of the fruit have shown wound-healing activity in rats after topical or oral administration[299 ]. The seed oil has anti-amoebic activity[299 ]. The heartwood is carminative. It is useful in treating pleurisy, cholera, colic and high fevers[299 , 303 , 310 ]. The fruit juice is used to treat herpes[303 ]. The crushed fruit is used in a treatment for urinary tract problems and abdominal swellings[311 ]. The cooked fruit, crushed in coconut oil, provides a salve, which, if applied to the hair, will kill lice[303 ]. An extract of the fruit is applied to swollen testicles[311 ]. A leaf tea is taken as a treatment for rheumatism and urinary retention[303 ]. A decoction of the leaves is used in treating coughs, influenza, headache and relapses in illnesses[311 ]. The leaf sap, and decoctions of most parts of the plant, are used externally to treat various skin diseases[303 ]. Juices from the pounded fruits, mixed with pounded leaves are used in a poultice to treat headaches and itches[303 ]. A decoction of the bark and fruit is mixed with oil and used to treat scabies. A decoction of the astringent bark is used to treat dysentery and haemorrhoids, and a maceration of it is drunk for colds[303 ]. A cold infusion of the bark is used in treating dysentery, diabetes, gonorrhoea, yellow urine, and thrush[311 ]. Indigestion, pelvic infection, dysmenorrhoea, infertility, secondary amenorrhoea, appetite loss, ulcers and worms are also treated with the bark[311 ]. The inner bark is used to treat constipation and typhoid[311 ]. The stem is employed in treating breast cancer[311 ]. Other extracts of the plant have significant antimalarial activity[303 ]. Leaf and bark decoctions are taken as a remedy for high blood pressure[303 ]. Seeds are purgative[303 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Fencing  Fibre  Fuel  Furniture  Green manure  Gum  Hair  Hedge  Insecticide  Lighting  Parasiticide  Plant support  Shelterbelt  Soil stabilization  String  Tannin  Waterproofing  Wood

Other Uses: This species is doubtfully distinct from Thespesia populnea, and so should have the same uses as detailed below:- The tough, fibrous bark yields a strong fibre used for cordage, fishing lines, coffee bags and for caulking boats[299 , 303 , 307 , 310 ] An oil is obtained from the seed[307 ]. It can be used in lamps[299 ]. The wood, soaked in water, yields a solution that is used in Asia to dye wool deep brown[299 , 307 , 310 ]. The fruit and flowers yield a water-soluble yellowish dye[299 , 307 , 310 ]. A black dye can be obtained from the leaves[299 ]. The bark is a source of tannins[299 , 303 ]. A gum is obtained from the fruit and flowers[303 , 307 ]. A thick gum, which is not soluble in water, is obtained from the bark[299 ]. The leaves are used for wrapping food[299 ]. The heartwood is reddish brown to dark brown or black, often with purple veining; it is sharply demarcated from the 1 - 2cm wide band of white to pale yellow or pale pink sapwood that darkens upon exposure. The wood is fine-grained; medium to fine-textured; it shows slight ribbon figure on quartersawn faces. Freshly cut wood has a rose-like smell. The wood is strong, hard, light to medium in weight; very durable, even when in contact with water or the ground, and resistant to insect attack. It seasons well, and does not warp or check; shrinkage upon seasoning is very low to low. The wood is easy to saw and work, despite its wavy grain; it turns well in both green and dry conditions; can be finished to an attractive polish; paints well; gluing properties are poor to medium. The wood contains an oil which slows down drying of varnishes. A very handsome and valuable wood, looking somewhat like chocolate and vanilla swirled togethe, it is used for a wide range of purposes where quality is more important than size, including traditional bowls, artefacts, gunstocks, jewellery, furniture, plates and utensils, horse-drawn carts and wheelbarrows, to carve canoe paddles. It is also used for light construction, flooring moulds, musical instruments, utensils and vehicle bodies[303 , 307 , 312 ]. Since it is very durable under water, it is popular for boat building[46 , 307 ]. The wood is used for fuel[299 ].

Special Uses


References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Portia tree is a plant of the moist to wet, lowland tropics and warm subtropics, where it is found at elevations up to 150 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 20 - 30°c, but can tolerate 10 - 35°c[418 ]. The plant can survive temperatures down to about 4°c[418 ] and the occasional very light frost[299 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,000 - 3,000mm, but tolerates 800 - 5,000mm[418 ]. Prefers a moisture-retentive but well-drained soil and a position in full sun[307 ]. It also succeeds in dry locations and is highly tolerant of saline conditions[303 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 6.5 - 8, tolerating 6 - 8.5[418 ]. Established plants are very drought resistant and can tolerate a dry season of up to 8 months[299 , 307 ]. Tolerant of occasional, short-lived inundation[299 ]. Plants are very wind-tolerant, withstanding even salt-laden winds[307 ]. The plant produces its seeds in a waterproof capsule that can float for a considerable time in salt water without losing viability. Thus it has managed to spread to the coasts of most areas of the tropics[307 ]. It has the potential to become a weed in new areas, so should not be introduced to areas outside its current range[312 ]. This species is often eradicated when found growing in cotton-producing areas, since it harbours the cotton-stainer beetle (Dysdercus spp.) which is a pest of the cotton plant[307 ]. Growth in height is rapid in the first few years, averaging 50 - 150cm per year, but it slows down when the tree is 7 - 10 years old. Stem diameter growth is 1 - 3cm per year[299 ]. Flowering can begin when the tree is only 1 - 2 years old[299 ]. In equatorial climates the plant will often flower all year round[299 ].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - generally easy, although direct sowings are generally a failure[303 ]. Germination can be difficult due to the hard seed coat, and is improved by scarification with a knife or sandpaper[299 ]. Germination takes 8 - 70 days[299 ]. Pot the seedlings up as soon as they are large enough to handle, planting them in pots deep enough to accomodate the taproot. Plants should be ready to plant out in 12 - 16 weeks[299 ]. Raising from seed is preferred as then the timber is knot free, straight, even grained and tough[303 ]. Cuttings of all sizes strike well, but it is preferable to plant small cuttings as trees raised from large cuttings are said to be short lived and liable to decay[303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Madagascar; Pakistan; India; Australia ; Papua New Guinea, Asia, Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pacific, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, PNG, SE Asia,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Thespesia populneaPortia Tree, Aden Apple, Indian Tulip TreeTree10.0 10-12 FLMHNDM334

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(Roxb.) Kostel.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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