Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Thespesia populnea
(portia tree)

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Datasheet

Thespesia populnea (portia tree)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 27 September 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Thespesia populnea
  • Preferred Common Name
  • portia tree
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Thespesia populnea is an Old World, tropical, coastal species that is often found in and around mangroves. Its buoyant and hardy seed is adapted for oceanic dispersal. It is an attractive ornamental with valued...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Manupetty, Tamil Nadu, India.
TitleTree habit
CaptionManupetty, Tamil Nadu, India.
CopyrightK.C. Chacko/KFRI
Manupetty, Tamil Nadu, India.
Tree habitManupetty, Tamil Nadu, India.K.C. Chacko/KFRI
TitleBark
Caption
CopyrightK.C. Chacko/KFRI
BarkK.C. Chacko/KFRI
TitleLeaves and flowers
Caption
CopyrightK.C. Chacko/KFRI
Leaves and flowersK.C. Chacko/KFRI
TitleFruits and leaves
Caption
CopyrightK.C. Chacko/KFRI
Fruits and leavesK.C. Chacko/KFRI

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Thespesia populnea (L.) Sol. ex Corrêa

Preferred Common Name

  • portia tree

Other Scientific Names

  • Abelmoschus acuminatus (Alef.) Müll.Berol
  • Azanza acuminata Alef.
  • Bupariti populnea (L.) Rothm.
  • Hibiscus blumei Kuntze
  • Hibiscus populneus L.
  • Malvaviscus populneus (L.) Gaertn.
  • Thespesia macrophylla Blume

International Common Names

  • English: bendytree; cork tree; Indian tulip tree; large-leaved tulip tree; Pacific rosewood; Polynesian rosewood; portia tree; seaside mahoe; Seychelles rosewood; tulip tree; tuliptree; umbrella tree
  • Spanish: alamo; alamo blanco; carana; clamour; duartiana; emajagüilla; higuillo; jaqueca; majaguilla; majugua de la Florida; palo de jaqueca
  • French: arbre à tulipes; arbre ombrelle; bois de rose; bois de rose d'Océanie; feuilles d’Haiti; kalfata, porché; motel debou

Local Common Names

  • American Samoa: milo
  • Bangladesh: shanboloi
  • Brazil: bela-sombra; pau-rosa; tespésia
  • China: tong mian
  • Fiji: mulomulo
  • French Polynesia: ‘amae; miro; purau
  • French Polynesia/Marquesas: mi‘o
  • Germany: Baum-Eibisch, Pappelblättriger; Küsten-Tropeneibisch
  • Guam: kilulo
  • India: arasi; asha; bhendi; bhindi; bugari; dumbla; gajadanda; gajashundi; galgaiavi; gangarava; gangareni; gunjausto; habali; hoovarasu; hurvarshi; kallal; karvarachu; pahari pipal; parash; paras-pipal; pares; parsippu; parsipu; poovarasu; porasu; poresh; poris; porsung; porush; purasia; puvarasam; sheelanthi
  • Indonesia: baru laut; salimuli; waru laut; waru lot
  • Indonesia/Java: waru laut
  • Indonesia/Moluccas: salimuli
  • Kenya: mtakawa
  • Malaysia: banalu; baru; baru baru; baru laut; baru-baru; baru-baru laut; bebaru; buah keras lau
  • Malaysia/Sabah: baru laut
  • Malaysia/Sarawak: bebaru
  • Marshall Islands: milo
  • Micronesia, Federated states of: bang-beng; panu; pbadrirt; polo; pone
  • Myanmar: sabu-bani
  • Northern Mariana Islands: banalo
  • Philippines: banalo
  • Pitcairn Island: miro
  • Puerto Rico: emajaguilla; otaheita; seaside mahoe
  • Samoa: milo
  • Sri Lanka: gan sooriya
  • Tanzania: mtakawa
  • Thailand: pho thale; po kamat phrai
  • Tonga: milo
  • United States Virgin Islands: haitihaiti
  • USA/Hawaii: milo

EPPO code

  • TSSPO (Thespesia populnea)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Thespesia populnea is an Old World, tropical, coastal species that is often found in and around mangroves. Its buoyant and hardy seed is adapted for oceanic dispersal. It is an attractive ornamental with valued reddish-brown heartwood, but forms dense thickets and reproduces profusely. Widely naturalized in Central America, northern South America, the Caribbean islands and Florida (USA), it is listed as an invasive species in the Bahamas, Florida and Puerto Rico. On Saint John, United States Virgin Islands, T. populnea has been reported to encroach on beaches where threatened sea turtles nest.  

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Malvales
  •                         Family: Malvaceae
  •                             Genus: Thespesia
  •                                 Species: Thespesia populnea

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The genus Thespesia is a member of the Malvaceae family, containing genera that are largely tropical and subtropical with worldwide distributions. Thespesia species are mostly trees, sometimes cultivated as ornamental plants or for other uses.

The genus Thespesia comprises 8 or 11 species (USDA-ARS, 2015 and The Plant List, 2013, respectively) distributed throughout the tropics, though larger numbers of species have been described in the past. From the late 1800s, at least one distinct variety, T. populnea var. acutiloba, was noted. This is sometimes raised to species level as T. acutiloba (Baker f.) Exell & Mendonça (The Plant List, 2013).

Some authors (see The Plant List, 2013) also recognize some Thespesia populations along Indian Ocean coasts as a distinct species, T. populneoides (Roxb.) Kostel, although USDA-ARS (2015) includes it as a synonym of T. populnea. Missouri Botanical Garden (2015) includes T. populneoides (Roxb.) Kostel as a separate species, but it is also listed as a synonym of T. populnea, as T. populneoides (Roxb.) Kostel and T. populneoides (Roxb.).

The name Thespesia means ‘divinely decreed’, given by Daniel Solander, a member of Captain Cook's ship, after seeing it in Tahiti (French Polynesia) (Friday and Okano, 2006).The portia tree is suggested as the international common name. It has very many different vernacular names throughout its broad native range, including tulip tree and variants, although use of the name tulip tree can cause confusion with the African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) which more often bears this name.

Description

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Adapted from Little and Skolmen (1989) and Oudhia (2007):

T. populnea is a medium-sized tree, usually 6-9 m tall with a dense evergreen crown, occasionally to 12-13(-20) m. The trunk is straight, branchless for up to 3 m, often twisted or bent, becoming hollow with age, without buttresses, 20-60(-120) cm in diameter, with grey or light-brown bark, smooth or slightly fissured, becoming thick and rough, and inner bark pink to yellowish, tough and fibrous. Twigs glabrescent, green becoming grey with age, and covered with very small brown scales when young, as are leaf stalks, blades, flower stalks, calyx and fruits. Leaves are alternate, arranged spirally, blade orbicular, deltoid, ovate or oblong, simple and entire; (6-)10-20(-23) cm long and (5-)6-13(-15) cm wide, pointed with entire margins, shiny dark green on upper surface, paler beneath, slightly thickened and leathery, becoming nearly hairless, and usually with seven main veins from base, base cordate, apex acuminate, on petioles 5-10(-16) cm long, mostly with saccate nectaries in the axils of the basal veins beneath. Flowers solitary in leaf axils, bisexual; opening one at a time, on stout 1.3-5(-10) cm pedicels. Calyx is cup shaped, green, about 10 mm high and 13 mm across, remaining at the base of fruit, with 3-5 narrow green scales (bracts) 13 mm or more in length on the outside, falling from the bud. Petals five, broad rounded oblique, 5 cm or more in length, pale yellow, usually with maroon spot at base, with tiny star shaped hairs on outer surface. Stamens many on column, 2.5 cm long joined at petals at base. Pistil has five-celled ovary with slender style and five broader stigmas. Flowers open and close in the same day, with petals withering, and turning to purple or pink. Fruits (seed capsules) rounded but flattened, about 3 cm in diameter and 2 cm high, slightly five-ridged, dark grey, hard, woody and dry, with calyx at base, usually remaining attached and not splitting open. Seeds several, elliptical, 1 cm long, brown hairy. 

Distribution

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Several different views are provided on the limits of the native range. According to USDA-ARS (2015), T. populnea has a very broad native range and is widely distributed throughout the tropics, though it is most commonly found in coastal areas, in Central America, northern South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, northern Australia, and on Indian and Pacific Ocean islands.

However, most authors (e.g. Little and Skolmen, 1989; Oudhia, 2007) consider T. populnea as native to Asia, possibly also on Indian Ocean and Pacific island shores, and introduced and naturalized in the Americas. Although it is often considered as a native species on most Pacific islands, it has been suggested that it may also be a possible early introduction, having been introduced, or at least spread, by early Polynesian settlers (Oudhia, 2007). Its status in West Africa is uncertain. 

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

CambodiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
ChinaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
-GuangdongPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
-HainanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
IndiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015Coastal
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
IndonesiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
JapanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
MalaysiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
MyanmarPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
PhilippinesPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
Sri LankaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
TaiwanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
ThailandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
VietnamPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015

Africa

BeninPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
ComorosPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
EritreaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
GabonPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
GhanaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
MadagascarPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
MauritiusPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
MozambiquePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
NigeriaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
RéunionPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
SeychellesPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
SomaliaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
TanzaniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015
TogoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2015

North America

BermudaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
MexicoPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2015
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2015

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
BahamasPresentIntroduced Invasive Kairo et al., 2003; USDA-ARS, 2015
BarbadosPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
BelizePresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
British Virgin IslandsPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Cayman IslandsPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Costa RicaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
CubaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
DominicaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Dominican RepublicPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
GrenadaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
GuadeloupePresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
HaitiPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
HondurasPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
JamaicaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
MartiniquePresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
MontserratPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Netherlands AntillesPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
NicaraguaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
PanamaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Kairo et al., 2003; USDA-ARS, 2015; USDA-NRCS, 2015
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Saint LuciaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
Trinidad and TobagoPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Austin, 1993; USDA-ARS, 2015; USDA-NRCS, 2015

South America

BoliviaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
BrazilPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
ChilePresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
ColombiaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
GuyanaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
SurinamePresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
VenezuelaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015

Oceania

AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
-QueenslandPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
-Western AustraliaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015
FijiPresentFriday and Okano, 2006; USDA-ARS, 2015
French PolynesiaPresentFriday and Okano, 2006; USDA-ARS, 2015
GuamPresent Not invasive Friday and Okano, 2006
KiribatiPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
Marshall IslandsPresent Not invasive Friday and Okano, 2006
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentFriday and Okano, 2006; USDA-ARS, 2015Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Yap
Northern Mariana IslandsPresent Not invasive Friday and Okano, 2006
PalauPresent Not invasive Friday and Okano, 2006
Pitcairn IslandPresent Not invasive Friday and Okano, 2006
SamoaPresent Not invasive Friday and Okano, 2006
TongaPresent Not invasive Friday and Okano, 2006
VanuatuPresentUSDA-ARS, 2015

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Florida 1928 Ornamental purposes (pathway cause) Yes Gordon and Thomas (1997)

Risk of Introduction

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As an attractive ornamental with various uses and valued timber, it is likely to be further introduced intentionally, though it is already present in most countries with suitable environmental conditions.

Habitat

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T. populnea is generally a coastal species. It is found in coral and sandy areas, along the edge of mangroves and in periodically waterlogged areas. It is also found in other coastal habitats, and further inland, but less frequently, in grasslands, bushland and forests, commonly up to 150 m altitude but also up to 500 m in eastern Africa and on some Pacific islands. As an ornamental, it is common in and around urban areas and is planted along roadsides and riversides, and as a windbreak in coastal areas.

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Natural
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Present, no further details Natural
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Riverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Littoral
Coastal areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Principal habitat Natural
Coastal areas Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Coastal dunes Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal dunes Present, no further details Natural
Coastal dunes Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Mangroves Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Mangroves Principal habitat Natural
Mangroves Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Intertidal zone Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Intertidal zone Present, no further details Natural
Intertidal zone Present, no further details Productive/non-natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

Several studies have confirmed the chromosome number as 2n=26 (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015).

T. populnea has been identified as a priority species for genetic improvement and conservation in the Pacific region (Friday and Okano, 2006).

Furthermore, T. populnea has been included in a systematic tree improvement programme that has been initiated at the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding, Coimbatore, India. Candidate Plus Trees (trees with superior phenotypes) numbering 120 with good stem form have been selected so far for further improvement (Warrier et al., 2015).  

Reproductive Biology

T. populnea is usually propagated artificially by seed, but propagation by stem or root cuttings or by air-layering is also possible. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox, retaining viability when dried and stored. Germination can be difficult due to the hard seed coat, and is improved by scarification. Direct sowing is common, but stump planting and transplanting wildings is also practised (Oudhia, 2007).

T. populnea trees can begin flowering when only one year old, or in the second year. The pale-yellow flowers open mid-morning and turn reddish-orange in the afternoon before fading to pink. The flowers remain on the tree for several days. Pollination is likely to be by birds (Oudhia, 2007).

Other Thespesia species are reported to sucker, though no specific information regarding this ability in T. populnea is available.

Physiology and Phenology

Early growth rates are rapid in the first few years (0.5-1.5 m per year), but slow down after reaching 7-10 years old. In southern Africa, T. populnea flowers in February and March and fruits from March to June (Oudhia, 2007) or from early spring to late summer in Hawaii, USA (Little and Skolmen, 1989), but can be year round in equatorial climates without marked dry seasons.

Environmental Requirements

T. populnea is a predominantly coastal species of tropical and warm subtropical climates, usually found from sea level up to 150 m altitude, and is cold-sensitive, though it can withstand the occasional very light frost. The mean annual temperature range is 20-26°C, and with mean annual rainfall from 500 mm up to 4000 (-5000) mm. It can survive in dry locations as it develops a long taproot in porous soils, and can tolerate a dry season of up to 8 months (Oudhia, 2007).

It grows best in full sunlight and does not grow well in shade. It is resistant to salt spray and sea wind, and is notably common along tropical coasts, on the shores of bays and inlets, on silts, corals and thrives on sandy soils, but is also found on volcanic, limestone and rocky soils with a pH of 6.0-7.4, tolerating heavier soils, soil salinity and occasional inundation, but does not grow on permanently inundated sites (Oudhia, 2007).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
30 23 0 100

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 2
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 20 26
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 26 28
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 18 26

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration08number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall5004000mm; lower/upper limits

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Anthonomus grandis Herbivore
Dysdercus cingulatus Herbivore
Dysmicoccus neobrevipes Herbivore
Earias Herbivore
Fomes pachyphloeus Pathogen Stems
Lophodermium Pathogen Leaves
Oxycarenus laetus Herbivore
Phellinus noxius Pathogen Stems

Notes on Natural Enemies

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T. populnea suffers from several fungal diseases, including root and stem rot caused by Phellinus noxius seen at the base of trees with growing diseased patches and a thick, dark-brown mycelial sheath around the trunk base, leaf spot (Lophodermium sp.), heart rot (Fomes pachyphloeus) and branch canker of tea (Phomopsis theae) (Oudhia, 2007). It is also host of a several crop pests such as the grey pineapple mealybug (Dysmicoccus neobrevipes) and a number of cotton pests.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

T. populnea fruit capsules are indehiscent, i.e. do not split open on ripening, and the lightweight fruits and seeds float. They tolerate salt water and remain viable even after a year spent in water (Oudhia, 2007). Dissemination of this species from island to island by ocean currents is apparently the natural means of spread (Little and Skolmen, 1989).

Intentional Introduction

As a culturally important and a very useful tree for Polynesian peoples, T. populnea was widely introduced throughout the Pacific in earlier millennia. Being a popular ornamental, T. populnea has also been widely introduced in more recent times, such as in and around the Caribbean.

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive

Economic Impact

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T. populnea is host to several serious pests of cotton, including the boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis), cotton stainers (Dysdercus spp.) including the red cotton bug (Dysdercus cingulatus), spiny bollworms (Earias spp.), and the cotton leaf worm (Alabama argillacea), the Indian dusky cotton bug (Oxycarenus laetus), and Pyroderces simplex and, as such, planting is discouraged or even outlawed in some cotton-growing areas (Parrotta, 1994; Friday and Okano, 2006; Oudhia, 2007).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Biodiversity

In coastal areas in Florida, USA, it has been identified as an invasive plant that is threatening native and endangered species. It is therefore listed as a ‘category 1’ invasive species by FLEPPC (2015).

T. populnea reproduces profusely from seed. Individual plants form long spreading or nearly horizontal lower branches, so crowded plants form dense thickets (Little and Skolmen, 1989). This thicket-forming ability monopolises resources and shades out other vegetation.

T. populnea has been recorded growing prolifically on beaches of Saint John island in the Caribbean where threatened sea turtles nest (Austin, 1993; IUCN, 2015). It is reported to be “interfering with the success” of the turtles (Austin, 1993). The leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles are all known to nest in the United States Virgin Islands (WIMARCS, 2015).

Social Impact

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T. populnea plays an important role in Polynesian culture and is an ornamental tree.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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Economic Value

T. populnea trees are the source of beautiful, strong and hard ‘milo’ wood that is highly valued on Pacific islands. The heartwood is reddish brown to dark or chocolate brown often with purple veining, contrasting sharply (and attractively) with the sapwood which is 1 to 2 cm-wide white to pale yellow or pale pink, darkening to light brown on exposure. Freshly cut wood has a rose-like smell. The grain is wavy to shallowly interlocked, medium to fine texture, with a slight ribbon figure on quarter-sawn faces. It is moderately heavy with a specific gravity of 0.6, 770 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It seasons well and does not warp or check, with low shrinkage, 3.8% radial and 6.9% tangential from green to oven dry, and movement in service is very low. The wood is easy to saw and work with hand and machine tools; it turns well when both green and dry, takes a fine polish and paints well.

It is very durable even when in contact with water or the ground, resistant to drywood termites but not to marine borers, and is used for making boats and furniture, but especially as a carving wood and for turnery (Little and Skolmen, 1989; Oudhia, 2007).

Social Benefit

Flowers and young leaves are reported to be eaten and are listed as famine foods, though other reports indicate that they are mildly poisonous. In some Pacific Islands it is regarded as a sacred tree and was cultivated around temples. Elsewhere, it is planted as a street tree and ornamental and, producing dense shade and much leaf litter, it is also used as a living fence (Little and Skolmen, 1989). Foliage is also used as fodder. Rope is made from the tough fibrous bark, which also contains up to 7% tannin and is used for curing leather. A fruit extract is used as a dye, seeds contain oil, and all plant parts are used to prepare traditional medicines (Oudhia, 2007).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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T. populnea is similar genetically and morphologically to Hibiscus species. It is sometimes confused with sea hibiscus (H. tiliaceus) that is also common in coastal areas, and has similar yellowish flowers that also turn dull orange with age. However, H. tiliaceus flowers have dark red stigmas (they are yellow in T. populnea), and they do not persist on the tree as with T. populnea, falling off the same evening or the day after. While both species have heart-shaped leaves, those of H. tiliaceus are almost round and hairy on the underside compared with the more elongated shiny leaves of T. populnea. H. tiliacea has elliptical and pointed grey-green seed capsules all over the tree distinguishing it from T. populnea which has rounded and flattened dark brown seed capsules mostly in the upper crown (Little and Skolmen, 1989).

The following information on three closely related species of Thespesia is taken from Oudhia (2007):

Thespesia acutiloba (Baker f.) Exell & Mendonça, known as the wild tulip tree or small-leaves tulip tree, is a shrub or small tree up to 5(-6) m tall, found in Mozambique and South Africa in woodland and thickets on recent sands near the coast.

Thespesia populneoides (Roxb.) Kostel., having somewhat bronzed or coppery, shallowly cordate leaves, pedicels 5-12 cm long and fruits with a dehiscing outer layer, occurs along the coasts of the Indian Ocean, However, many intermediate specimens with T. populnea exist where both species are found, and in Sri Lanka for example, some of these ‘hybrids’ have been widely propagated vegetatively as ornamentals and living fences.

Thespesia danis Oliv. is a shrub or small tree up to 6(-10) m tall, found in eastern Africa from Somalia to Tanzania in forest, bushland and grassland up to 500 m altitude. 

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

T. populnea is an aggressive colonizer in full sun but will not grow well in the shade of other trees (Friday and Okano, 2006). An integrated control programme could therefore include the creation of shade. For example, mechanical cutting and/or herbicide treatment should be followed by the sowing of grasses, trees or other vegetative cover.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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More information is required on control methods.

References

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Ananthasubramanian KS, 1987. Newer trends in the biosystematics of Membracidae. Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Animal Sciences, 96(5):517-525

Austin DF, 1993. The exotic Virgin Islands. The Palmetto, 12-13. http://www.fnps.org/assets/pdf/palmetto/austin_daniel_f_the_exotic_virgin_islands_vol_13_no_1_spring_1993.pdf

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23/09/2015 Original text by:

Nick Pasiecznik, Consultant, UK

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