Lagunaria patersonii. NORFOLK ISLAND HIBISCUS. Queensland, Norfolk Island
MALVACEAE (Mallow family)

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.

Illustration: McMinn, Howard E. and Evelyn Maino. 1951. An illustrated manual of Pacific coast trees; with lists of trees recommended for various uses on the Pacific coast by H. W. Shepherd. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Illustrations (links open new windows): flower1 | flower2


Name derivation, genus | species Andrea Laguna (1494-1560), Spanish botanist | William Patterson (1755-1810), British naturalist and plant collector

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