This endemic species of the Mallow Family (Malvaceae), is a sprawling shrub to small tree that has been historically found throughout the dry forests of all major Hawaiian Islands except Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe from elevations between 400’ and 2600’. Growing from 3’ to 15’ tall and can be about as wide, these plants grow quickly and are long lived (greater than 5 years). The leaves are a medium green and can be found with 3, 5, or 7 lobes each and can be up to 6 inches long! The flowers are yellow, often with a maroon center, and can be 4-6 inches in diameter. Interestingly, the flowers are relatively short lived, lasting only about a day and are fully open in the mid-day sun.
Ma’o hau hele are endangered in the wild, but many people have chosen to grow them in their garden at home! These Hibiscus can make great container, accent, or specimen plants that will do well in full sun or partial shade. The ma’o hau hele need well-draining soil and are susceptible to root rot when over watered. Pruning will allow many branches to form, and is best done after flowering which usually occurs in late winter to spring.
The Ma’o hau hele is the official state flower of Hawai’i. There are 3 distinct subspecies of Hibiscus brackenridgei, each of which is federally listed as endangered.