I love to visit Kalopā State Park to see Hibiscus clayi — kokiʻo ʻula — which has the cutest little red flowers.
For many years I have been visiting Kalopā in Hamakua on Hawaiʻi Island to see a number of rare native plants in cultivation. One of most striking is Hibiscus clayi — kokiʻo ʻula — endemic to the island of Kauaʻi. The tree is endangered and is extremely rare — only a handful of trees remain in the dry forests of Kauaʻi. The plants have been cultivated in botanical gardens throughout the Hawaiian Islands to prevent its extinction. They are also outplanted in the wild on Kauaʻi to increase its numbers.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Hibiscus clayi tree at Kalopā is that the petals of its flower are recurved — they curl backwards giving the flowers a distinctive appearance. I have not seen recurved petals on other endemic hibiscus flowers.
Hibiscus clayi grows as a shrub or tree reaching heights of 25 feet high. The leaves are smooth-edged or slightly toothed on the tip. Single red flowers about 2inches in diameter bloom at the ends of the branches. Many of the flowers at Kalopā have a subtle pink shade to their otherwise red color.
The tree was discovered in 1928 by Albert W. Duvel who brought them into cultivation, which proved to be a new species. The plant was name Hibiscus clayi, after the famous horticulturalist Horace F. Clay.
Like other hibiscus, the flowers have a stamenal column that protrudes about 2 inches from the center of the flower. At the very tip is a 5 pointed stigma — the female part of the flower — which must be pollenated in order for seeds to develop. Just beneath the stigma are a number of stamens — the male part of the flower — that radiate from the staminal column and produce pollen.
“Kokio” is “hibiscus” in Hawaiian and “ula” is “red”. There are other native hibiscus trees — Hibiscus kokio subspecies kokio and Hibiscus kokio subspecies saintjohnianus which also go by the name kokio ula. If you would like to grow these cute little hibiscus in your yard you can purchase plants from Rick Barboza at Hui Kū Maoli Ola.
Personal communication with Rick Barboza and David Paul