Thespesia populneoides

Thank you Andreas Lambrianides (aka andreas lambrianides@Flickr) for these two images of Thespesia populneoides blossoms. Surprisingly, both flowers are of the same species, and perhaps even from the same tree; Thespesia populneoides flowers are yellow with a touch of red toward the base when in full bloom but turn red or pink following anthesis (full bloom).

Thespesia populneoides has been considered a synonym of Thespesia populnea by many botanists. However, a case has been made that Thespesia populneoides should be considered a distinct species. Abedin et. al. point out that the two taxa have different ranges and that Thespesia populneoides has many distinct characteristics from Thespesia populnea. These characteristics include harder fruit, young growth that is coppery and densely peltate hairy (as opposed to green and sparsely peltate hairy), and deeply cordate (as opposed to truncate) leaves. The two species hybridize frequently.

Also known as Pacific rosewood or milo, Thespesia populneoides grows on low elevation beach forests and gallery forests in Australia, the Indian Ocean islands, southeast Asia, and Malesia. It is highly saline-tolerant and wind-resistant, making it a wonderful species for seaside plantings. The attractive flowers bloom intermittently year-round in equatorial climates. The richly-coloured dark wood is highly-valued for crafting into beautiful objects such as carvings, platters, and musical instruments. The wood of Thespesia populnea (and likely also Thespesia populneoides, as these are not always seen as distinct species) was used to carve sacred objects in Polynesian cultures. Groves of milo were planted around Tahitian places of worship. The botanist Daniel Solander, while a member of Captain Cook’s first voyage, gave milo the genus name Thespesia (meaning “divinely decreed”) after seeing the species growing in sacred areas.

Thespesia populneoides
Thespesia populneoides

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