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
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.
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.
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
The Hawaiian Connection
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:
Double Crimson a 21/2" double crimson pink with white veins;
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
4. Crimson Single 3" single with dark crimson throat gradually
paling to light crimson edge; and.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Botanical names are taken from J.W. Parham's Plants of the Fiji islands originally
published in 1962.
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