June 15, 2009

My Evening with Sea Hibiscus

Sea hibiscus is every where along the Luak Bay in Miri.

To many it has even become something that is oblivious since it is so common.

But to me my evening walk along the beach is beautified and inspired by its awesome presence. The solitary beach would be strewn romantically with the day old flowers by five thirty while some are still living out their last moments on their mother tree.

A lovely chat with the fishermen who were organising their nets nearby gave me a great insight into the plants found around this spot. They also told me that Bungai would be a better place to photograph more of these beautiful flowers. Officially the Malays call this plant baru baru or baru laut. The flowers are yellow in the morning and they change into this wonderful peach orange in the evening. Such is the magnificient power of the Creator.

These two photos show the direction of the wind has changed in the evening. All the flowers which have dropped on the sand are facing inland indicating how strong the sea breeze is.

Here is a lonely flower caught by an old log. It makes a good portrait.

I picked up a flower to give it a scale. It is not too big. Its hues are beautiful and would make a good lipstick colour or even blusher shade!!

I think tea / dinner sets with this sea hibiscus design would be nice too.

I arranged a flower to sit on a log for this photo. It was difficult because the sea breeze was so strong!!

Leaves of the sea hibiscus.

Some more sea hibiscus are still on the tree by five thirty. So I took this photo to show some of them in their last effort to beautify our environment.

What a blessed evening walk!! Sea breeze - beautiful sea hibiscus - sand patterns giving you creative juices - and nice people along the beach.

As I walked further I was very tempted to recite out loud "Who has seen the wind?". But I had no one to share the moment with. Some one who passed by might even think that I was a lunatic on the loose!

Just to help you refresh your memory - here's the beautiful poem we learned as kids.


Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you:

But when the leaves hang trembling

The wind is passing thro'

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads

The wind is passing by.

Extra notes/ADAPTED:
If you see the sea hibiscus further inland it indicates the high water mark and the boundary between the end of salt water penetration and the beginning of freshwater swamp. It also grows in limestone and volcanic areas too.

The yellow flowers open in the morning (after sunrise, about 9 am) and turn orangey brown before falling on the same evening or the following day (hence the colour of my sea hibiscus in the evening).

It is not surprising that its leaves are fed to cattle in Southeast Asia; and young leaves eaten by the Polynesians. In India, they were a famine food; mucilage and bark is eaten and stalks sucked.

In traditional Selangor Kelantan and Terrenganu for example the bark contains tough fibres used for making rope and to caulk ships. The bark is stripped lengthwise from the wood and soaked in water to separate the outer bark from the smooth cream-coloured inner bark. This is dried and woven into rope. The cord has the unique property of being stronger when wet.

I do not have a photo of its fruits yet. But they have small woody furry spheres which split open to form 5 segments, releasing 3-5 small kidney shaped seeds.

Classification: Family Malvaceae. World 1 mangrove associated species.

How our Polynesidan friends use sea hibiscus :

The rope is used to make a wide variety of items including fishing nets, hammocks, mats, slings, bow strings, net bags, string for sewing or making leis (flower garlands). In Tahiti and other Polynesian Islands, it is used to make "grass" skirts. The bark is also used "unprocessed" as a quick source of binding cord by hunters and farmers.

The white timber is lightweight (floats well) but tough. Thus in Hawaii, it is used to make outrigger canoes. Sometimes, young branches were trained to form the required shapes for this purpose, or bent to shape in an underground oven. The branches are stripped of bark then soaked in seawater for several weeks to discourage insects and rot. The timber is also used to make handles of axes, spears and brooms. Small pieces of wood were used as floats. It is ideal as tinder for starting fires.

Usually when we look at local plants we immediately think about whether it can be used in traditional medicinal uses. To my surprise the eaves are used to cool fevers, soothe coughs and remove phlegm (Malaysia, Indonesia); fresh bark soaked in water is used to treat dysentery (Philippines), for chest congestion and during birth (Polynesians); fresh flowers boiled with milk is used to treat ear infections; the crushed flowers are applied to abscesses (Guam); buds chewed and swallowed for dry throat.. Slimy sap of the bark, branches and flower buds used as a mild laxative or as a lubricant in childbirth.

And its economic significance? The plant secretes a substance that attracts ants, not in its flowers but through its leaves. Each of three leaf veins on the under surface near the stalk have a small slit. It is from here that the substance exudes, and ants of all sizes can be seen drinking from them. Among these, are the fierce Weaver Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina), which may help keep off insect pests. Some insects that feed on the plant include the Cotton Stainer Bug (Dysdercus decussatus) that feeds on its seeds.

(FROM http://www.naturia.per.sg)

Ivan Polunin, "Plants and Flowers of Singapore", Times Editions, 1987 (p. 116: description, habitat, distribution, photo).
Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to the Wayside Trees of Singapore", Singapore Science Centre, 1989 (p. 114: description, habitat, photo).
Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to Medicinal Plants", Singapore Science Centre, 1992 (p. 76: description, chemical compounds, uses, photo).
E. J. H. Corner, "Wayside Trees of Malaya: Vol II", Malayan Nature Society, 4th ed., 1997 (p. 482-483: description, habit).


Watt said...


Sea hibiscus is indeed a beautiful flower & was beatifully pictured by you. I wonder whether you have heard of:

1. Enkuang (which can be used to cook asam fish as it tastes rather sour)
2. Entimau/timau(grows in 'temuda' & tastes quite like kiwi fruit)
3. Kelampu(looks like duku-langsat .. sweet taste)
4. Tamang(looks like chili padi except that it tastes sweet when rippen).

All those are seasonal edible wild fruits found mainly in the ulu area. It would be wonderful if someone could come out with pictures of these fruits.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Watt for suggesting the names.

I will be on the lookout for these fruits and perhaps even use them for cooking. I love experimenting with nature's bounties.

Do they have different names in different areas? For example Kechalak is known as buah kentang.

Please give more tips in the future. They are most welcome. I believe in photographical documentation.

Greenspot said...

It would be magnificient if you take photos of the same sea hibiscus during different time of the day. The changes in colour will be captured and interesting to all to see.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for writing!
I will see what I can do. There are several sea hibiscus growing outside my compound and a few others along the road too.

But they do not flower as much as those growing by the beach.

I might take the fishermen's advice and go to Bungai for an outing one day...

Will post the photos soon.

peacemaker said...

Awesome photos of evening in Luak Bay.

Very memorable. I must go jogging there again. Thanks for the photos.

bungaikong@gmail.com said...

Haven't been reading lately - book or internet news or blogs.
It is thus refreshing to look at the pictures of sea hibiscus in the evening.
Thanks. I live quite near the beach but seldom take a good look.

ahock said...

Beauty can be found in the most sublime corners or places if one has the heart to search for it. You have done it!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Peacemaker
Thanks for dropping by. The days are getting cooler now and more and more people are visiting the Luak Esplanade.
It is a great evening when the tide is low and children can really play in the wide and sandy beach.
It is also the lokan season!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Kong
The sea hibiscus is all over the inner beach level. Take a closer look and see how wonderful the sea hibsicus is.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ahock
Thanks for writing in.
Sublime indeed!

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