What follows is the result of my quest to find out as much about hibiscus as it relates to Fiji. At the outset, I must record my thanks to those that have helped, in particular: Jill Coryel, Wally Morgan, Dick Phillips and Ken Perks. Without their help this project would not have been completed nor would it have been possible to have produced the articles that have already been featured in previous issues - Bob Rivers-Smith.

Origins Of Hibiscus In Fiji

There is no doubt that the migration of Fijians had a lot to do with contributing to hibiscus being established in Fiji. The original inhabitants of Fiji are now extinct and it is thought that the current Fijians migrated from Africa.

When one looks at the uses to which the hibiscus are put to use in Fiji it is no wonder that they were an essential part of what they included in their belongings. Its use as toothbrushes and an aid to childbirth are just some to name a few. It is therefore easy to conclude that this is how H. Archerii [common red], Pink Versicolor (left photo) and H. schizopetalus made their way to Fiji.

On Section "Hibiscus Around The World", Ross Gast wrote: "While Fiji has hibiscus varieties not seen in Hawaii or elsewhere, some varieties common to all areas are grown there. In fact the variety we call Pink Versicolor is perhaps the most widely grown hibiscus in Fiji". As an interesting aside Bulletin 29 records the fact that Pink Versiclor, known as Pauahi Bishop in Hawaii, was crossed several times with H. schizopetalus.

It is also thought that the indentured Indian labor also brought varie-ties such as Jewel of India and Golden Oriel with them. Ken Perks, in a letter to James Munroe the Executive Secretary of the AmHS in 1964, estimated that as a result of migration and early hybridizing there were somewhere in the region of 3,400 Fijian varieties.

The Hawaiian Connection

Bulletin 29 records the fact that 33 varieties of hibiscus were introduced from other regions for use in their hybridizing program. Amongst those were several varieties from Fiji. Those specifically referred to are:

1. Double Crimson a 21/2" double crimson pink with white veins;

2. Semi Double Salmon 41/2", a delicate scarlet orange single at base, a dark crimson eye and a tuft at the end of the modified column;

3. A narrow petaled White 51/2" pure white with 1/2" wide petals and     crimson column;

4. Crimson Single 3" single with dark crimson throat gradually paling to     light crimson edge; and.

5. Semi Double Yellow 21/2" Naples Yellow with whitish throat.

It is not clear whether any of the other varieties merely catalogued as "introduced" came from Fiji. In addition Messrs. Ken Perks, Dick Phillips and K. Wolliams arranged for cuttings to be sent to Hawaii. They included: Adi Lala Red, Apted Single Red, Arthur, Brown Bomber, Brown Bomber`s Brother, Buttons, Common Red sport, Fiji Island (Photo, left inset: C. Quirino 2003), Fiji Pink, Floribunda, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Naselai Pink, Naselai Pale Pink, Naselai Pink White form, Ruby Rose, Suva Belle and Tricolour.

Jill Coryell has used Brown Bomber as a pollen parent. Her Lilia Raine, named after her niece, is the result of crossing it with Butterfly (A photo of Lilia Raine is illustrated on page 17 hereof).


Over the years numerous people have grown and hybridized hibiscus however no records were kept by the early hybridizers. Like Ross Gast, I spent several hours searching extant records in the Fiji Archives but could not find any reference to hibiscus. I had hoped that the reports filed by Mr. H. W. Simmon - an entomologist with Agriculture Department, who traveled to the Caribbean, Madagascar, Zanzibar and Mauritus in 1930, would have some reference to hibiscus. But this was not to be.

Reference to some of these early hybridizers are plants that bear their names such as: Simmon`s Red, Simmon`s Yellow and Warden`s Yellow (Photo, left inset: Bob Rivers-Smith 2002) but others like Phillapa Day I fear will, in time, be forgotten. The only records I have been able to unearth were those kept by the late Messrs. Dick Phillips and Ken Perks. Ken did not keep detailed records until 1970.

Ken's records (Please refer to facsimiles of these records in Part 2 of H.I.18 hereof) however, show that from that date he made 398 crosses. These records also show the use of 61 imported varieties. Dick did not do much hybridizing but was a substantial importer of hibiscus. His records also do not give details of the parentage of the likes of Dark Sun or Deuba Surf. Fred Moffat a substantial grower of hibiscus in earlier years did not, as far as I can ascertain, get involved in hybridizing.

A Native Fiji Hibiscus: The Elusive H. storckii

Detailed information on H. storckii (Photo, upper left inset: J.F. Giraud 2002) has al-ready been covered in a previous issue of Hibiscus International. However, my quest to find a plant growing has taken an interesting turn. I am currently in correspondence with Marie Louise Storck Wiseman, a great grand-daughter of Jacob Storck. She claims to have found specimens growing in the Palm House of Kew Gar-dens and in Fiji. She has some photos.

She is currently spending time in Spain before returning home to Germany where she has her records. Keep your fingers crossed we may have a break through on the saga of the whereabouts of H. storckii.

                    Photos From Fiji
While in Fiji for a school reunion the late Dick Phillips took me on a tour of Suva. Illustrated in this and the pages that follow are some of the pictures I took of hibiscus growing there some of which are not identified (Photo of "Lilia Raine", lower left inset: Jill Coryel 2001).

Mulching is one of the great, modern gardening practices--- controls weeds, modifies soil temperatures, protects the soil from insulation and water loss from evaporation. If mulching with organic material, the breakdown products, particularly humus, acts as a buffer, by taking up and slow releasing nutrients. In my small garden I use pine bark. It seems to do all the things it's supposed to do. It is at a depth of about 2-3 inches. I'd like it a bit deeper but cost has to be considered. - John Richardon, February 4, 2003.

Mulching is so important when growing hibiscus in the ground. It is particularly important to me as our soil is a sandy loan (or perhaps a loamy sand) and would dry out very quickly without mulch.

I have used spent mushroom compost extensively in the past and found this to be excellent, but as it breaks down fairly quickly, can be quite expensive. We currently use pine bark which lasts up to 2 years. As well as the pine bark, we use the mulch from our 8 H.P. garden shredder which is mainly shredded palm fronds (not the leaf sheath) and this lasts for approximately six months. When applying mulch around the plant, I also add a couple of handfuls of dynamic lifter - (pelletized chicken manure). But remember, whatever you use for a mulch, anything is better than nothing - Allan Little February 4, 2003.

Mulching is one of the most important things you should do if you are growing plants in the garden, and also it helps preserve moisture if you are growing in pots.

Mulching helps stop water loss in the hot days, and keeps the roots nice and cool and moist, and the weeds are kept at bay most of the time if you mulch, and if a weed does appear it is much easier to remove as the soil is moist and the roots come out very easy.

It helps to provide humus for the soil as it breaks down, and the worms love it as the soil is kept moist and they can come towards the top of the soil. I usually apply about 3 to 4 inches of mulch on the beds and I leave an opening around the trunk of the bush, because if you pile it up around the trunk you run the danger of introducing rot into the bush.

The fine surface roots love to grow just under the mulch, in the moist cool soil, and they cannot do this if you do not have mulch spread, as the soil on the surface dries out and kills off any surface roots, so it aids the growth of the bush, because if you have a healthy root system you get better flowers, and that is the name of the game to produce better and more flowers.

I have used different types of mulch over the years, but any sort of organic matter will do, and it depends what is available in your area. At the moment I am using sugar cane mulch, which is made from the tops of the sugar cane which have been chopped up, and they bale it and sell it at the nurseries, but I have used pine bark fines, compost made from mushroom compost, sugar cane bagasse, grass clippings which have been composted, Tea tree compost made from the remains of the tea tree when they extract the oil from the plant, any thing which will shelter the roots and add humus to the soil as it breaks down.

It also saves on water in these days of paying for all the water we use, and I do not have to hose so much, as the ground stays moist for longer, and as it heats up here in OZ we have to be prepared and apply the mulch to keep our plants going through the hot months, or they soon tell you they are under stress as the leaves start to wilt, from lack of moisture, caused from the plant using so much water in the heat and if you do not mulch, the plant cannot get enough moisture, as the ground dries very quickly, but if the surface is covered the moisture is retained and your plants are not so stressed - Jim Purdie, September 30, 2002.

From the Editor: As a continuation of our review of old articles detailing the history of hibiscus rosa-sinensis, this article is based on a speech delivered by Dick Phillips during the May 3, 1990 Australian Hibiscus Society Convention. Dick Phillips was a member from Fiji, a horticulturalist government officer, consultant, nurseryman, newspaper columnist and radio program host with an interest in all types of plants but with a special interest in hibiscus.

Back in the 1860's the botanist, Seemann came to Fiji at the request of he British Government to see just what plants existed here and to see if there were any of commercial significance. In a few short months he traveled extensively and his observations show just what a perceptive man he was not only with plants but also with places and people.

On the island of Tavenni, he found a hibiscus which he named H. storkii after his assistant. Descendants of Jacob Storck still live in Fiji and are involved with plants through their nursery and landscaping work. Unfortunately, no one has since been able to identify just which of the numerous 'local' hibiscus was the one Seemann regarded as a species. So, just as no one really knows what H. rosa-sinensis looked like, we cannot identify H. storckii.

Over the years have been numerous people who have grown and hybridized hibiscus in Fiji but as the names will not mean anything to people in Australia, I will only mention a few of them. In many ways the hybridizing programs have probably gone through much the same patterns as overseas, although in recent years the two major hybridizers, Ken and Joy Perks, have always kept in the back of their minds the need to breed into their plants the ability to grow from cuttings. Time and again they have gone back to the older vigorous hybrids and I expect they will continue to do so. The Perks had regular Contact and a few visits from Ross Gast who had a number of possibilities for H. storckii but was not willing to settle on any one particular plant and there is no one in Fiji knowledgeable enough to carry the search any further, at least for the moment.

The early travelers in the Pacific must have brought the hibiscus with them as the hibiscus generally is referred to as Senitoa and several other names. Senitoa means (possibly) "Flower of the Chicken" red from the red comb, but this is doubtful. Hibiscus twigs were used as tooth brushes by Fijians before we came along with something supposedly - more suitable.

Many Hibiscus relatives are also in Fiji - Abelmoschus moschatus (H. esculentus), Okra or Bindi (Left top and Right Bottom photo), is a common Indian vegetable; A. manihot (H. manihot) is the Fijian 'Bele' a vitamin-rich green vegetable and good eating if you do not cook it for too long - it gets horribly slimy ! Cotton (Gossypium arboreum) was in Fiji by 1835 but except for a short period during the American Civil War has proved to be of low quality and not an economic crop.Various other Gossypium species are regarded as aboriginal introductions and recent excavations have shown that there were people in Fiji several thousand years before Christ, presumably coming from the West. H. mutablis and H. syriacus probably came with the Europeans. So did H. schizopetalus, the Coral Hibiscus, much used in hybridizing as a pollen parent. I expect the Indians brought the Roselle - H. sabdariffa - and it is still commonly seen growing beside Indian homes, especially in the country.

The Vau - H. tiliaceus - is an extremely important plant to Fijians. It will grow well on sandy saline soils so is a good windbreak, though in wet areas, such as Suva, it grows a tangled mass of soft branches. The bark is made into a supple strong cordage; broader strips were used as the 'liku' or short women's skirt falling from a waist band and leaving little to the imagination. In ceremonial, the dregs are strained from the drink Yagona (Polynesian Kava) - Piper methystichum with a ball of the bark. Another excellent beach tree is the Mulomulo Thespesia populnea.

The Perks grow little else but hibiscus and Ken has been heard to say that orchids would be wonderful plants if they had flowers like hibiscus. But they are breeding hibiscus of world quality. On a recent visit from the Waimea Arboretum on the North coast of Oahu, Hawaii, Keith Wooliams, who with Garry Powell has developed a hibiscus evolution garden, expressed very considerable surprise at the enormous variety of old and new hybrids that we have in Fiji.

As neither Ken nor I are on the right side of 60, we are beginning to get a little worried as to what might happen to our collection in the future. As a result, I am trying to get copies of all Ken and Joy's plants as well as scouring Suva and the other towns - and the other islands, when we get a chance to travel - for all the old hybrids, many of them very beautiful flowers and well worth preserving. It is possible that this duplicate collection might become part of a garden on the western side of the island of Viti Levu - perhaps part of a 'tour' for our overseas visitors. With assistance from Waimea, much of the collection may also go to Hawaii.

What a pity that regulations prevent us from sending plants to Australia. And yet, one of our hybrids is in the hibiscus listings of several nurseries in Australia. This is H. Tomato Lam. This name interested me when I saw it and I was told that the plant came to Australia from New Zealand. The correct name should be Tomato Lani and it is easy to see that on a badly written plant tag, Lani could become Lam.

This is s hybrid from the collection of Mrs. Philippa Day (now living in Sydney) and made at the town of Labasa on the island of Vanua Levu, where Geoff Day was manager of the sugar mill. One morning Phillipa noticed a seed pod on her plant of Honolulu Lani. She had not made the cross so the pollen parent is not known - it could have been Honolulu Lani selfed or Surfrider (Left Top Photo: Mervyn Weis 2002) which was growing alongside. Two seedlings were of good quality and were named Tomato Lani and Labasa Lani, the latter having a much darker stronger colour with buff edges to the petals. How Tomato Lani got to New Zealand is not known.

Two other old hybrids in Australia interested me, Fijian White - which Gast called Hedstrom White as it was in the Hedstrom garden in Suva that he first saw it - and Fijian Pink, which I did not know but the Perks recognized when I took a plant back to Fiji. We have our share of insect and fungus problems with our hibiscus, though I was surprised to see the extent of the damage done by the little black beetle - if we had 10% of what you have in Brisbane we would consider it had reached plague proportions.

I gather that the reason behind the ban on hibiscus imports from Fiji is a virus but I was assured that you already had it in Australia. A fungus that you do not want is what we call Thread Blight. I do not know its proper name and doubt that our Agriculture department has done any work on it. In wet weather such as we have in Suva (100 inches in the first four months of 1986) it appears as a thick black thread running up the underside of the branches and then spreading out and sucking dry each leaf.

The threads persist and a hibiscus bush with lots of dry leaves is a sure sign of Thread Blight. It responds readily to any good fungicidal spray but only about 20% of hibiscus appear susceptible. As part of their breeding pro-gramme, the Perks do not use plants which are susceptible hopefully breeding resistant plants.

Most tropical soils are of relatively low fertility so that regular fertilizing is essential for good flowering through many of the older hybrids seem to exist and flower their heads off under extremely hard conditions.

I am satisfied that many of the newer hybrids have a limited life span and need to be replaced with new plants grown from cuttings or grafted after six or seven years. Most of our soils in Suva are very shallow black muck over solid soapstone - there are areas of my garden where there is less than 12 inches of soil and 6 feet is probably the deepest. Under these conditions watering in the odd spells of dry weather is essential - drying out is probably the greatest cause of bud drop.

Fred Moffat was one of the better growers (he is also now in Australia) and he had a very regular spraying program with both insecticides and fungicide and he fertilized every month. Each bush was surrounded with a thick mulch of grass clippings - kept well away from the trunks - and each month, each plant was given a handful of a pelleted fertilizer onto the mulch. This is a fertilizer used mainly for sugar cane and so readily available here and simply known as N.P.K. 13.13.13 or 13.13.21. In dry weather he watered regularly. As a result he always had healthy clean bushes, covered with flowers. It was a lot of work, but it paid off. Fred also pruned regularly to keep his bushes in good shape.

For the records the weather in Suva (on the south eastern side of the islands of Viti Levu) is wet and warm. Rainfall is about 120 inches a year though on one glorious day in April, 1986, the official rain gauge said 11 inches, while a private rain gauge close to where I live registered 29 inches ! Temperatures seldom go below 6OF (15C) or above 95F (32C). The western side of the island - near Nadi Airport - has about 80 inches of rain a year with two thirds of this falling in the four summer months. Temperatures come slightly higher and lower than in Suva.


NOTE - Botanical names are taken from J.W. Parham's Plants of the Fiji islands originally published in 1962.


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2002 International Hibiscus Society