Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Thespesia populnea

Also known as Portia Tree, this tree can be found throughout the world in tropical regions including Singapore.

The Portia Tree is an evergreen small tree around 6 to 10m tall with a short, straight or crooked trunk. It has a dense crown that is overcrowded with lower horizontal branches. 

The leaves are alternate, glossy green on the upper side and pale green on the under side. They are heart-shaped and broad with long leaf stalks. The leaves on the lower crown turn yellow before falling to the ground.

The pale yellow flowers are bell-shaped, resembling a hibiscus. The petals are yellow with a maroon spot at the base of each petal. The flowers open and close in the same day, and the colour of the flower will change from yellow to dark red, purple, or pink as the day goes by. Its flowers are pollinated by insects. The thespesia fire bug (Dysdercus simon) can usually be found associated with the leaves of this plant. 

The fruits are dry, papery, or woody capsules that contain several seeds in five cells. They grow in clusters at the ends of branches. The 1cm seeds are brown and hairy and dispersed by wind and water. 

The leaves and flower buds are edible and may be eaten raw or cooked.

The wood of this tree is prized for making bowls in the Hawaiian islands. Fiber from its bark is used to make cordage and to caulk boat. The plant is harvested for its light timber that can be made into paddles, furniture, and parts of carts.

The tree is considered sacred in the Pacific, hence is planted around temple, and its leaves are used in religious ceremony.

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