Characteristics of Portia Tree (Thespesia populnea) in the Wild

Thespesia populnea
Portia tree or Pacific rosewood (Thespesia populnea) is a type of seaside tree member of the Malvaceae family. This tree is widespread on tropical beaches around the world. It was introduced to the Pacific Islands from Island Southeast Asia by prehistoric Austronesian explorers.


Portia trees have been discovered from Polynesia before the Austronesian expansion (5,000 BP), then deliberately brought and introduced by Austronesian explorers to the islands they inhabit.

It is one of the main sources of bark fiber for rope production and wood for outrigger vessels and Austronesian carving.

Thespesia populnea is considered sacred in Polynesian culture and is commonly planted in marae locations along with trees such as Ficus, Fagraea berteroana, Casuarina equisetifolia, and Calophyllum inophyllum.



Portia tree is known as milo or miro in Polynesian. This tree is popular in Hawaii for woodworking (usually turned into bowls) because of the range of colors it expresses (brown, yellow, to red). It is traditionally grown in sacred forests and used to make religious statues throughout eastern Polynesia.

In Tahiti, Portia tree wood is used in the manufacture of to’ere (wooden perforated drums), used in traditional Tahitian drumming.

In New Ireland, Portia tree wood is used to make hourglass drums. In Tonga, the bark is used to treat oral infections in infants, and the wood is used to make canoes, house parts, and works of art.

In South Asia, it is used to make the thavil, a Carnatic musical instrument from South India.

The flower of the Portia tree played a role in the Sri Lankan independence movement when it was sold on Memorial Day by the Suriya-Mal Movement in exchange for Opium to help former Sri Lankan soldiers.

Portia tree wood was used by the early Tamils ​​to make instruments in the ancient Tamilakam.


Characteristics of Portia Tree Leaf

Thespesia populnea Leaf

Leaves are long-stemmed, oval-shaped, heart-shaped with flat edges, measuring 7-24 × 5-16 cm, spines, with small skin glands between the bases of the main veins on the underside of the leaves. Young leaves scaly brown tightly.


Characteristics of Portia Tree Flower

Thespesia populnea Flower

Flowers stand-alone, bell-shaped, 6-7 cm long, yellow, appear in the axils of leaves, and long stems.


Characteristics of Portia Tree Fruit

Thespesia populnea Fruit

Fruit box shape flat ball to the shape of a wide egg, and 2.5-4.5 cm in diameter. The seeds are hairy.


Characteristics of Portia Tree

Thespesia populnea Tree

Portia tree grows as a small tree 2-10 meters high with a trunk diameter of up to 50 cm. It grows on sandy beaches or in the backs of unstamped tidal forests.

This tree is capable of growing in a variety of soil types that may exist in a coastal environment, including soils of quartz, sand, limestone, and basalt, preferring neutral soils (pH 6-7.4).


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