Grow Guide: Hibiscus tiliaceus (Native Hibiscus)

This species of native hibiscus makes an excellent shade tree but can also be used for hedging in gardens around the country. It grows to a height of around 8 metres.

When I lived in Queensland and worked as a propagator, I remember driving down to the foreshore at Manly and Wynnum to gather propagation material from the native hibiscus trees that were growing there.

Hibiscus tiliaceus is more commonly known as the cottonwood hibiscus or sea hibiscus. It has large heart-shaped leaves and very attractive yellow flowers with a deep red centre in spring and summer.

Hibiscus tiliaceus Native Hibiscus 1 | Plant care

This species of native hibiscus makes an excellent shade tree but can also be used for hedging in gardens around the country. It grows to a height of around 8 metres.

Light requirements

Ideally, you want to plant this native hibiscus in a sunny spot in the garden but it can also handle a bit of light shade.

Temperature and humidity

Although Hibiscus tiliaceus grows naturally along the northern and eastern coasts of Australia, it can easily adapt to most climatic zones around the country.

This includes cool and warm temperate regions, areas with a Mediterranean climate and both the tropics and sub-tropics.

It can even tolerate light frosts but may not survive in really cold regions. However, it’s particularly suitable for coastal areas because it can tolerate heavy winds laden with salt.

Hibiscus tiliaceus Native Hibiscus 2 | Plant care

Soil requirements

Hibiscus tiliaceus can adapt to most soil types from sandy loam to poor soils. It’s also not fussed about the pH level of the soil. 

Ideally, this native hibiscus prefers moist soils that are free-draining. But, it can adapt to soils that have poor drainage as well.

Water requirements

Once established, this native hibiscus will survive on rainwater alone on the east coast and will require very little supplementary watering except in long periods of dry weather.

Hibiscus tiliaceus trees | Plant care
Photo by John Robert McPherson / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

However, newly planted trees should be given a good watering until they’ve become established. Applying a layer of mulch around the base of the tree will help to retain soil moisture.

During long periods of dry weather or if you live in a fairly dry part of the country such as Perth or Adelaide, it’s a good idea to water your plant deeply at least once a week.


If your soil has a good amount of organic matter, it’s unnecessary to fertilise this native hibiscus. However, in poorer soils, you can give the plant a boost by applying a native fertiliser once a year in spring.


You have a few options when it comes to pruning this native hibiscus as what you do will control its growth habit. 

To create a feature tree in your garden, select the main leader as the major trunk. Remove any other upwardly growing branches that want to compete with this trunk. 

Of course, you only want to do this when the tree is very young in order to control its growth habit.

Hibiscus tiliaceous can also be grown either as a native shrub or a hedging plant. You can achieve this by trimming the plant all over in spring. 

The plant is quite adaptable and really doesn’t mind a regular trim. Just make sure that you never remove more than one-third of the growth at any one time.

You can also prune your native hibiscus after it’s finished flowering by reducing each branch by about 30 cm. If you do this, you might end up with another flush of flowers in autumn.

Hibiscus tiliaceus Native Hibiscus 3 | Plant care

Problems, pests and diseases

This native hibiscus has very few problems but if grown on the east coast, especially in temperate areas, it may be attacked by metallic flea beetles.

These brightly coloured beetles that have a metallic sheen will eat holes in the leaves of the native hibiscus giving them an unsightly appearance.

The adult beetles are mainly active in spring but their numbers will decline as the weather warms up over summer. The female beetle lays her eggs in the soil and the hatched larvae will remain in the soil until they’re ready to emerge as adults.

The best way to control these pests in an organic way is to break the life cycle. This can be achieved by sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant. 

You can also spray the hibiscus with neem oil to kill the adults as they’re feeding on the leaves.

How to grow Hibiscus tiliaceus as a hedge

If you want a nice screening hedge in an exposed coastal area, Hibiscus tiliaceus is ideal for this. It responds well to regular pruning and can handle salt-laden winds very well.

Plant your shrubs around 2 metres apart and ensure that you tip prune regularly right from the beginning. This will encourage the plants to produce multiple upright stems rather than one central trunk.

Once your native hibiscus shrubs are planted, make sure that you apply a decent layer of mulch around the base but keep it away from the trunks of the plants. This will help to keep the soil moist.

To achieve optimum growth, fertilise your plants with an organic native plant fertiliser in spring.

How to grow Hibiscus tiliaceus in pots

This native hibiscus is quite versatile and can also be grown in large pots. This will make the growth more compact because it’s limited to the amount of space that the roots have in the pot.

You want to select a large pot that is at least 60cm in diameter and has plenty of drainage holes. Use a premium potting mix that is designed for native plants. 

Potted native hibiscus needs to be kept well-watered as the soil will dry out much faster than garden soil. However, make sure that the excess water can drain away freely and don’t leave a saucer of water underneath the pot.

You can feed your plant with a liquid fertiliser once a week over spring to promote lots of flowers.

Interesting uses for Hibiscus tiliaceus

As an Australian native tree, the various parts of Hibiscus tiliaceus have some interesting uses. The timber can be used to make furniture and is excellent for carving.

The bark of the tree was traditionally used to make rope. It’s also interesting to note that the flowers are edible and can also be used to make tea.

This tree is commonly grown on the islands of the Pacific region and Pacific islanders have many uses for different parts of this tree. 

For example, in Tonga, the bark and young leaves are used to treat skin diseases. In Fiji, the leaves are used to help in the healing of sprained muscles or fractured bones.

Additionally, the leaves of Hibiscus tiliaceus are used in the fermentation of soy into tempeh. It’s also quite common for the flowers to be dipped in batter and fried, much like zucchini flowers.

Even the roots of this versatile plant can be cooked and eaten.


Is native hibiscus fast growing?

This species of native hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) is fast-growing and can be grown as a tree or a multi-stemmed shrub or hedging plant.

How tall do native hibiscus grow?

There are many species of native hibiscus. Hibiscus tiliaceus can reach a height of 8 metres if grown as a tree.

Is native hibiscus invasive?

In Australia, our native hibiscus species are not regarded as an invasive species. However, they are listed as invasive in the United States.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.


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