Thespesia populnea

Thespesia populnea

The portia tree (Thespesia populnea, Family Malvaceae, or /ˈpɔərʃ(i)ə/) is a small tree or arborescent shrub 5-10 (-20) m high that is pantropical in littoral environments, although probably native only to the Old World. In Hawai‘i and elsewhere in the Pacific it is possibly indigenous, although may have been spread by early Polynesians for its useful wood and fiber.

Common names vary according to the country and include "Indian tulip tree", "Pacific rosewood", "seaside mahoe" (in Florida), surina (the "elegant tree"), suriya (Sinhala), bebaru or baru baru (Malay), milo or miro (in many Polynesian languages), mako‘i (Rapanui), gangaraavi (Telugu), poovarasu (Tamil) and plaksa (Sanskrit).

On Pitcairn Island, miro (as it is called there) was once common but extensively logged. Throughout the 20th century, Pitcairners have sailed to Henderson Island to obtain miro wood. They use the wood to make curios from which they derive much of their income (Binggeli, 1999).

The flower of the portia tree played a part in Sri Lanka's independence struggle, when it was sold by the Suriya-Mal Movement instead of the poppy to aid indigenous ex-servicemen.


The wood of the portia tree is used to make the thavil, a Carnatic musical instrument of South India. Milo is popular in Hawaii for woodworking (commonly turned into bowls) because of the range of colors expressed (tan, through yellow, to red). Traditionally it was planted in sacred groves and used for religious sculpture throughout eastern Polynesia. It was used for the rongorongo tablets of Easter Island (Orliac 2005).


  • Thespesia populnea at website: Australian native hibiscus and hibiscus-like species.
  • Binggeli, Pierre. 1999. Miro
  • Orliac, Catherine. 2005. "The Rongorongo Tablets from Easter Island: Botanical Identification and 14C Dating." Archaeology in Oceania 40.3.


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