Norfolk Island hibiscus tree

Does it ever happen to you that you see a plant, finally find out its name and then “suddenly” you’re seeing that same plant all over the place? Happens to me all the time.

The latest addition to my gallery of these types of plant is the Norfolk Island hibiscus tree (Lagunaria patersonia). There is one growing right next to the public toilets at the base of Mauao (Mt Maunganui) and when I noticed its pink flowers last summer I resolved to find out what it was … but didn’t, apart from vaguely thinking it might be a ngaio (Myoporum laetum). A quick look at some pictures of ngaio flowers proved that idea wrong.

And it was while looking at the photos I took of the tree by the toilet on Christmas eve this summer that I noticed the very hibiscus-like “stamen”, which helped enormously with Google search terms and I had it quick-snap.

Norfolk Island hibiscus tree (Lagunaria patersonia). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Lagunaria Page records that: The genus was named in honour of Andres de Laguna (d. 1560), a Spanish botanist (and physician to Pope Julius III), and the species in honour of a Colonel W. Paterson who first sent the seeds of the species to England.

Lagunaria patersonia is native to Norfolk and Lord Howe islands, while Lagunaria bracteata is native to Queensland – and that’s all the Lagunarias there are.

The hibiscus tree also has the common name “pyramid tree”, which gives an idea of its tidy growth habit, as well as “cow itch tree”, apparently thanks to the fine hairs in its seed capsules, although most websites seem to agree that they probably cause more human skin to itch than cow hide.

And now that I know what it is, I have seen Lagunaria patersonia at Te Puna Quarry Park, along Chapel St by the sewage treatment plant, in private gardens …

This link reveals (towards the bottom) that it is “the biggest tree” that is able to be grown on limestone (as well being good in coastal areas).  And here’s some information about its allergen potential.

Just for fun here are some links to information about Norfolk Island (where the pines come from) and Lord Howe Island.