Milo Tree

Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Plant of the Month | 0 comments

Milo Tree

MILO – Thespesia Populnea

The Milo Tree is part of the Mallow genus or Malvaceae. It is comprised of eighteen species in the genus. Without getting too technical, it’s main characteristic is it’s durability to withstand the environment and the seed to withstand the salt of the sea in it’s ocean voyage throughout the Pacific Islands.

Milo Tree


Though the name come from Greek thespesios or devine it is known by the generic name Thespesia referring to T. populnea, When Captain Cook was collecting plants in the Pacific this is one of his collected plants from Tahiti where is was considered sacred and was found around places of worship. The term populnea, poplar-like, was used in regards to its leaves similar to poplar trees.


Hawaiian Name: Milo

The name references its twist, curl and spin of the trunk and limbs.

  • This name is also used in the Marshall Islands and American Samoa
  • The fruits and seeds are salt tolerant and are distributed island to island by sea. The seeds will germinate even after a year in seawater. This has made them  a prime candidate for proliferation among the islands of the Pacific.
  • Used over the centuries with wide variety of function, from containers to implements.  It has stood the test of time.

 Milo in History

Though in the past the milo was used mostly by the ancient Hawai’i chiefs for their furnishings and jewelry. Surrounding the home of King Kamehameha were many milo trees.

Though today it is less common than in ancient times, it is a great shade plant to have around houses close to the sunnier coast line. It thrives in loose soil and grows better on the lowlands than it does in the central island mountain forests.

Early Polynesian settlers carried the seeds with them on their voyages. The Milo is a fast growing plant that was used in Tahiti around the temples, said to be spiritually important and involved with chants and prayers. Not only is this plant found in Polynesia dn Micronesia, but also in tropical Africa.

Milo tree is part of the Hibiscus family and used for it’s bark fiber for cordage. The many uses of the milo tree from die, oils, medicine and gum from various parts of the plant made it a main stay of the culture for centuries. Used for poi bowls and calbashes, the milo tree was a daily used item.

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