Hibiscus diversifolius subsp. diversifolius


Hibiscus: Name of very ancient origin used by the Roman poet Virgil for the marsh mallow plant.
diversifolius: with differing or varied leaves; from the Latin diversus and folium; leaf shapes

Common Name(s)

Native hibiscus, swamp hibiscus, prickly hibiscus

Current Conservation Status

2012 - Threatened - Nationally Critical

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - Threatened - Nationally Endangered
2004 - Threatened - Nationally Vulnerable


2012 - DP, RR, SO, Sp
2009 - SO, Sp


Hibiscus diversifolius Jacq. subsp. diversifolius



Brief Description

Sprawling tangled thorny shrub bearing broad thin leaves and large dark-centred flowers forming dense thickets by streamsides and in wetlands in northern Northland. Stems with small hooks. Leaves to 100mm long and 80mm wide, with 3-5 uneven irregular teeth, on long thorny stalk. Fruit a dry hairy 20mm long capsule.

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs


The only synonym applicable to New Zealand is Hibiscus taylorii Buchanan nom. nud.


Indigenous. In New Zealand this species has apparently always been restricted to the northern most extremity of the North Island (from about Reef Point and Doubtless Bay north). The largest populations known occur on the eastern side of Te Paki. However, several of these owe to their origins to deliberate plantings by conservation minded locals. Outside New Zealand this species is also known from tropical Africa, Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines, many Pacific Islands and Central and South America. New Zealand plants match subsp. diversifolius.


Coastal wetlands and streamsides. Often growing amongst raupo (Typha orientalis C.B.Presl) at the back of dune slacks or close to brackish streams. Very rarely in gumland scrub or on ultramafic rubble.


Shrub up to 2 x 2 m, typically forming dense intertangled thickets. Stems stout and woody, especially near base. Young branches and leaf petioles clad in small, sharp prickles. Petioles up to 80 mm long. Leaves 50-100 x 30-80 mm, broad cordate to suborbicular, or truncate, shallowly 3-5-lobed, scabrid, margins crenate-dentate. Flowers in terminal racemes, 50-80 mm diam, borne on short, prickly pedicels. Bracts lanceolate, bracteoles 10, linear, c.15 mm long, hispid, Calyx densely clad in long stiff hairs, lobes lanceolate c. 10 mm long. Petals 35 x 35 mm, pale lemon-yellow, with a dark purplish basal blotch, obovate. Capsule 20 x 20 mm, ovoid, acute to acuminate, clad in long stiff hairs. Seeds 4-5 mm, pale brown, glabrous.

Similar Taxa

A well marked species easily distinguished from other Hibiscus species cultivated or naturalised in New Zealand by the prickly stems and leaf petioles.


September - April (but sporadic flowering may occur at anytime of the year)

Flower Colours



October to May (but fruit may be found at anytime of the year)

Propagation Technique

Very easily grown from fresh seed and semi-hardwood cuttings. An attractive shrub, ideal for a coastal garden or sheltered situation when grown inland. Rather frost tender, in cooler areas it can be treated as a vine and grown up walls which protects it from frost. The prickly stems and petioles can be unpleasant. The creeping form reputedly from the Surville Cliffs makes an ideal ground cover. Hibiscus diversifolius can be grown around ponds and in boggy ground.


This species is under severe threat from the actions of browsing animals, particularly wild cattle and horses which greedily devour it wherever they can find accessible plants. Some populations at Tokerau Beach have been eliminated by coastal housing development.

Chromosome No.

2n = 72

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Where To Buy

Periodically offered by most commercial garden centres. Plants are held by several specialist native plant nurseries. Two forms seem to be available, an erect shrub-forming plant typical of the wild New Zealand form, and another prostrate, creeping form, said to have come from the ultramafic rocks of the Surville Cliffs, North Cape. Can be purchased from oratia Native Plant Nurseries (info@oratianatives.co.nz).


References and further reading

Johnson, A. T. and Smith, H. A (1986). Plant Names Simplified: Their pronunciation, derivation and meaning. Landsman Bookshop Ltd: Buckenhill, UK.

This page last updated on 1 Dec 2013