From Common Forest Trees of Hawaii

Thespesia populnea
Mallow family (Malvaceae)

Polynesian introduction

Milo is common along shorelines through the islands and is also planted for ornament and shade. It is said to have been introduced by the early Hawaiians. It is recognized by the large bell-shaped flowers, like hibiscus, with five overlapping pale yellow petals, single at leaf bases, by the dark gray, rounded but flattened, hard dry that usually do not split open, and by the long-pointed shiny heart-shaped leaves usually with seven main veins from base.

©2008 Eric Hunt
An medium-sized tree 20–30 ft (6–9 ) in height, with straight trunk 8–24 inches (0.2–0.6 ) in diameter, and dense Long spreading or nearly horizontal lower branches of crowded plants form dense thickets. Bark gray or light brown, smoothish or slightly fissured, becoming thick and rough. Inner bark is yellowish, tough and fibrous. Twigs stout, green and covered with very small brown when young, becoming gray. leaf-stalks, blades, flower stalks, and have scattered tiny brown also.

Leaves with long leaf-stalks of 2–4 inches (5–10 ). Blades heart-shaped, 4–8 inches (10–20 ) long and 2 1⁄2–5 inches (6–13 ) broad, long-pointed, not on edges, slightly thickened and leathery, usually with seven main veins from base, shiny dark green on upper surface, paler beneath, becoming nearly hairless.

Flowers single at leaf bases, opening one at a time, on stout stalks of 1⁄2–2 inches (1.3–5 ). cup shaped, green, about 3⁄8 inch (10 ) high and 1⁄2 inch (13 ) across, remaining at base of with 3–5 narrow green () 1⁄2 inch (13 ) or more in length on outside, falling from bud. Petals five, broad rounded oblique, 2 inches (5 ) or more in length, pale yellow, usually with maroon spot at base, with tiny star-shaped hairs on outer surface. many, on a column 1 inch (2.5 ) long joined at petals at base. has a five-celled with slender and five broader stigmas. Flowers opening and closing the same day, petals withering and turning to purple or pink.

(seed capsules) rounded but flattened, about 1 1⁄4 inches (3 ) in diameter and 3⁄4 inch (2 ) high, slightly five-ridged, dark gray, hard, woody and dry, with at base, usually remaining attached and not splitting open. Seeds are several, elliptical, 3⁄8 inch (1 ) long, brown hairy. Flowering from early spring to late summer.

The beautiful wood of milo, with light brown sapwood and reddish brown to chocolate brown heartwood, takes a fine polish. It is moderately heavy ( gr. 0.6), easy to work, has a low shrinkage in drying and is durable. It is classed as resistant to attack from drywood termites and is used elsewhere in boatbuilding and cabinet work. The Hawaiians carved it into beautiful bowls, such as calabashes for poi. It is presently an important craftwood, used for turned bowls and carved figures (tikis). The wood contains an oil that retards drying of oil-base varnishes but does not affect lacquers.

Elsewhere, rope has been made from the tough fibrous bark. It is reported that flowers and young leaves are mildly poisonous, though they also have been eaten. The seeds have been employed medicinally.

Several milo trees were planted around the house of King Kamehameha at Waikiki. In some Pacific Islands this species was regarded as sacred and was cultivated around temples.

Occasionally planted in the tropics as a street tree and ornamental, it produces dense shade and much leaf litter; it is also used as a living fence. In West Indian islands, where cotton is an important crop, this species is eradicated because it is a host of the cotton stainer, a red insect that stains fibers of growing cotton.

In Hawaii, common along sandy shores and borders of brackish marshes through the islands. Also planted around houses, formerly more than now. A particularly large tree is on the Ward Avenue side of Thomas Square in Honolulu. The trees are hardy in dry coastal areas but more common on windward shores where they are protected by reefs. The rounded but flattened dark brown seed capsules usually present in the upper distinguish milo from hau, Hibiscus tiliaceus, which has elliptical long-pointed gray green seed capsules.

Special areas
Keahua, Waimea Arboretum, Haleakala, City, Volcanoes

Height 42 ft (12.8 ), c.b.h. 9 ft (2.7 ), spread 69 ft (21 ). Kekaha, Kauai (1968).

Widely distributed on tropical shores throughout the world, native in the Old World. Transported by floating and seeds. Naturalized elsewhere along shores of southern Florida, through West Indies including Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, and continental tropical America from Mexico to Brazil and Chile.

Other common names
seaside mahoe; emajaguilla, otaheita (Puerto Rico); haitihaiti (Virgin Islands); kilulo (Guam); banalo (N. Marianas); badrirt (Palau); bangbeng (Yap); polo (Truk); pone (Pohnpei); panu (Kosrae); milo (Marshalls, Am. Samoa)

Common names in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands are derived from Tahiti, a Pacific island where this species is native.

Some dissemination of this species from island to island through the tropics by ocean currents apparently is natural. Seeds in the lightweight can germinate after floating a year in seawater.

An evergreen tree retains a large portion of its green leaves all year.

stamen -- the pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower; The stamen consists of an anther supported by a filament.

style -- This is a long and thread-like structure that connects the stigma with the ovary. A flower may have a single style, or several of them.

scale -- A very small leaf around a dormant bud. Also other things that might remind one of fish scales on the surface of ferns, stems and the like.

cm -- A centimeter which is about 0.4 inches.

mm -- millimeter. About 1/25th of an inch.

alternate -- leaves alternate along the main stem and are attached singly.

Like the teeth on a saw, leaves and other surfaces can have toothed edges.

m -- A meter is about 10% larger than a yard.

Bracts are modified leaves associated with a flower.

An ovary is a part of the female reproductive organ of the flower. Above the ovary is the style and the stigma, which is where the pollen lands and germinates to grow down through the style to the ovary.

calyx -- the sepals of a flower, typically forming a whorl that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud.

fruit -- any seed-bearing structure in flowering plants. It is formed from the ovary after flowering.

canopy -- The foliage of a tree; the crown. Also the upper layer of a forest.

A pistil is the female structure of many flowers. It contains one or more carpels. Each carpel contins an ovary, style and stigma. The stigma receives the pollen which grows thru the style to reach the ovary.

sp. -- The abbreviation for "species". The plural is "spp". When used it sometimes means that the exact species is unknown. For example, "Aster sp" would mean some species within the Aster genus but the writer may not know exactly which species.