Lagunaria patersonia
Norfolk Island hibiscus, primrose tree

Malvaceae (mallow family)
Queensland, Norfolk Island
Lagunaria patersonia flower and leaves. John Rawlings, c 2005

Rather a surprising spectacle when in bloom in midsummer and covered with flowers that are an inch or more across in colors grading through rose-pinks to lilac, this stately tree grows to about 25 feet. The flowers distinctly resemble the hibiscus, the stamens projecting from a central column, and indeed the tree is of the same family.

The leaves are dull green, very pale underneath, and about 2 inches long.

The seed capsules open to reveal five compartments and should be handled with care because of the fine sharp hairs (used as itching powder to be shaken down the neck of the kid at the desk in front of you by knowledgeable but uncouth mischief-makers). The cow-itch tree (Mincuna imbricata) of India bears pods covered with sharp hairs but has nothing to do with Lagunaria. Nor has it anything to do with cows – the name is a corruption of cowage, a local name in India. Propagation of the deceptive name cow-itch for the sweet Norfolk Island hibiscus in some Bay Area tree and garden books must be a conspiracy to cover up the true use of itching powder.

There should be more of the Norfolk Island hibiscus on campus. Two are growing 4 feet apart on Serra Street at the Fire Station, not far from the Recycling Center parking lot. Several specimens have been planted in recent years in the Quarry Road north parking lot near its Welch Road entrance and back toward the path that leads to the Arizona Garden.

Lagunaria patersonia. John Rawlings, c 2005

Name derivation: Lagunaria – Andrea Laguna (1494–1560), Spanish botanist; patersonia – William Patterson (1755–1810), British naturalist and plant collector.

Lagunaria patersonia flower. John Rawlings, c 2005
Lagunaria patersonia. From An Illustrated Manual of Pacific Coast Trees, Howard E. McMinn & Evelyn Maino

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. Specific ephithet corrected from the widely used patersonii to patersonia (Nov 2017, SP).