Hibiscus kokio subsp. saintjohnianus

leaf Main Plant Information






  • saintjohnianus

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Kokiʻo
  • Kokiʻo ʻula
  • Kokiʻo ʻulaʻula
  • Mākū

Hawaiian Names

  • Kokio
  • Kokio ula
  • Kokio ulaula
  • Maku

Common Names

  • Hawaiian red hibiscus
  • St. John's hibiscus
  • St. John's rosemallow


  • Hibiscus kokio subsp. st. johnianus
  • Hibiscus roetae
  • Hibiscus saint johnianus
  • Hibiscus saint-johnianus
  • Hibiscus saintjohnianus

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

At Risk

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Shrub
  • Tree

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Shrub, Medium, 6 to 10
  • Shrub, Tall, Greater than 10
  • Tree, Small, 15 to 30

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container

Additional Landscape Use Information

These are small trees and do good as container plants in 3 gallon or larger pots in sunny locations.

Source of Fragrance

  • No Fragrance

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Flower Characteristics

Flower Type


Flower Colors

  • Orange
  • Yellow

Additional Flower Color Information

Flowers can be orange to orangish red or, more rare, yellow.

Blooming Period

  • Year Round

Additional Blooming Period and Fruiting Information

Kokiʻo ʻula is almost in constant bloom year around.

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

These plants are prone to sucking insects. Chinese rose beetles can be removed by hand. The native red hibiscuses is just as prone to attract the hibiscus erineum mite as the non-native red hibiscuses.

leaf Growth Requirements


Fertilize this hibiscus using a 2-1-3 or 2-.5-3 ratio with minor elements. It is important to keep the phosphorus low because it tends to accumulate and prevents the nitrogen and potassium from working. Minor elements such as magnesium and iron are also important to maintain healthy green foliage. [1]

Pruning Information

Tolerates pruning. For hedges, the plants may need pruning two or three times a year. Occasionally clear out dead wood for minor shaping. Can be pruned to form upright plants. Best if kept at 3 to 6 feet tall.

Water Requirements

  • Dry

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun


  • Drought


  • Cinder
  • Organic


Protect against strong wind, especially when planted in containers.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)

Additional Habitat Information

Restricted in dry to mesic forests on northwestern Kauaʻi.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

The large Mallow family Malvaceae contains some 2,300 species, with notables such as okra, cacao, durian, baobab, kenaf, and cotton. [3]

There are perhaps as many as 300 species worldwide in the genus Hibiscus. There are six native species of hibiscuses in Hawaiʻi and all but one are endemic.


The generic name Hibiscus is derived from hibiscos, the Greek name for mallow.

The specific and subspecific epithet kokio comes from the Hawaiian name for this hibiscus.

The subspecies is named after Harold St. John (1892-1991), a professor of botany at University of Hawaʻi Mānoa from 1929 to 1958 and a prolific field botanist, credited with discovering hundreds of new species. [4]

Hawaiian Names:

The Hawaiian name Kokiʻo ʻula is shared by our two native red hibiscus (Hibiscus clayi and H. kokio). The word ʻula means "red" or "scarlet" and ʻulaʻula refers to a deeper red.

Even though the flowers of subspecies saintjohnianus are orange (ʻalani), orange-yellow (melemele ʻili ʻalani), or yellow (melemele), and not red (ʻula), they still go by the name Kokiʻo ʻula.

Mākū is an additional name for this species, but its meaning is unclear. Other meanings for mākū are "firm, hard; thick, stiff, as molasses; jellied, solidified; to gel, harden; to settle, as dregs; to thicken, as cream; dregs, sediment, lees." [8] The connection, if any, is uncertain.

Background Information

When the hibiscus was named as the official flower for the Territory of Hawaiʻi by the Legislature in 1923, it was not specified as to any particular hibiscus species or variety. This lead to some confusion. In time many considered the Native red (Hibiscus kokio) or the Chinese red hibiscuses as the state flower. In 1988, however, Hawaii's State Legislature resolved the issue by declaring the Native yellow hibiscus or Maʻo hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei), as the official flower of the State of Hawaiʻi. [9]

The two native red hibiscus species, Hibiscus clayi and H. kokio differ in a few ways:

  1. The flowers of H. clayi are always red; H. kokio can be red, deep red, orange, or yellow.
  2. Leaves of H. clayi are smooth, or occasionally toothed only near tip; H. kokio leaves are toothed from below middle to the tip (sometimes smooth).
  3. H. clayi is restricted to Kauaʻi; H. kokio is naturally found on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Maui and Hawaiʻi.
  4. H. clayi shrubs are generally more compact in habit or form than H. kokio.

New DNA evidence suggests that Hibiscus kokio subsp. saintjohnianus may now be given full species status as Hibiscus saintjohnianus. [10]

Early Hawaiian Use


Both the native red and white hibiscuses were grown near their houses for their flowers. [5]


The beautiful flowers were fashioned into striking lei, but lasting only a day. [6]


Kokiʻo was pounded with other plants, juice strained, and taken to purify blood. The leaves were chewed and swallowed as a laxative or mothers would chew buds and given to infants and children as a laxative. Mother would also chew the buds and give to children or children would eat the seeds to strengthen a weak child. [7]

Other Uses:

The wood was used by early Hawaiians to make a fine charcoal. [5]

Modern Use

Two recognized cultivars for subspecies saintjohnianus are 'Haena Red' and 'Velvet Sunset'. [2]

Propagater and grower Dennis Kim has also created a few cultivars such as 'Mary Foster,' 'Keahi,' and 'Gold.' [Priscilla Millen, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Additional References

[1] Jill Coryell, Hibiscus Lady
[2] [Accessed 10/1/08]

[3] [Accessed 10/14/09]

[4] "Maui's Floral Splendor" by Angela K. Kepler, page 33.

[5] "Native Planters in Old Hawaii--Their Life, Lore, & Environment" by E. S. Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy, page 233.

[6] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, page 47.

[7] "Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value," by D.M. Kaaiakamanu & J.K. Akina, page 54.

[8] [Accessed 12/04/12]

[9] [Accessed 10/14/09]

[10] "Hawaii Landscape" Sept./Oct. 2013 issue, pages 16-17.



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