Natural populations

Abelmoschus moschatus is a perennial herb or 2 m tall shrub that occurs across coastal areas of northern Australia and along the east coast to South Stradbroke Island. There are two recognised subspecies. Subsp. moschatus is native to India, southern China, tropical Asia and some parts of the Pacific but there are naturalised occurrences in northern New South Wales. Subsp. tuberosus occurs in South-east Asia and northern Australia and is regarded as a possible early introduction to Australia [13, 43]. In Australia, subsp. tuberosus grows in seasonally wet areas or near creeks, in open forest and woodland, in a wide range of soils from sands to heavy clays. It is regarded as weedy outside of its natural habitats and will colonise in disturbed and cultivated areas [86].

Flowering and seeds

Subsp. tuberosus flowers spring to autumn. Flowers last for one day only but are very prolific and flowering time depends on the timing of the wet season [110]. Fruiting in autumn; the seeds are musk scented. Propagation may be from seeds, small tubers or stem cuttings. Seeds germinate readily but some difficulty is often experienced in getting the plant to establish in the ground [110].  A perennial plant, the foliage dies back in the dry season to grow again from its tuber during the wet season.

Cultivation and uses

Leaves, shoots and tuberous roots can be eaten raw or cooked and were a source of food for Aborigines [36, 110]. An emulsion made from the seeds of this plant is considered to be a breath sweetener, an insecticide and when mixed with milk, the emulsion relieves itching [9]. In cultivation, two varieties are recognised with the flower with the white or yellow with a red or maroon centre (common form in the Northern Territory) or deep pink to red (common form in Queensland) [85].

Key descriptors for subsp. tuberosus:
Climate parameters
Annual rainfall 700-2750 mm
Rainfall distribution pattern summer
Mean annual temperature 19-29 °C
Mean max. temperature of the hottest month 27-35 °C
Mean min. temperature of the coldest month 7-18 °C
Frosts: frost free or more or less frost free
Altitude: 10-1100 metres
Soil factors
Texture: clay loam, light to medium clay (35-50% clay), loam, sandy loam, sandy clay loam or sand
Soil depth: moderate to deep (30-100 cm or greater)
Drainage: well-drained
Biological traits under cultivation
Growth rate: fast
Longevity short-lived less than 15 years
Coppicing ability: lignotuberous, forms a root stock
Root system: lignotuberous or forms a tuber
Drought: known to be moderately drought tolerant
Fire: regenerates foliage after damaging fire
Weediness: potential high based on its biology


[85] Australian Society for Growing Australian Plants - Queensland Region. (1990) A Horticultural Guide to Australian Plants - sample. [Online resource Accessed: February 2008].

[110] Australian Society for Growing Australian Plants (2007) Australian Plants Online - Abelmoschus moschatus subsp. tuberosus. [Online resource Accessed: February 2008].

[9] Bodkin F (1986) Encyclopaedia Botanica: the essential reference guide to native and exotic plants inAustralia. Angus & Robertson Publishers, North Ryde, NSW.

[36] Brock J (1988) Top end native plants. John Brock, Winnellie, Darwin.

[86] Invasive Species Specialist Group (2008) Global Invasive species database - Abelmoschatus moschatus. [Online resource Accessed: February 2008].

 [13] Petheram RJ, Kok B (1986) Plants of the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Department of Agriculture, Western Australia.

[43] National Herbarium of New South Wales (2008) PlantNET - Flora of New South Wales . [Online resource Accessed: February 2008].

Internet links

Abelmoschus moshatus in India:


Agroforestry database:


Australian related species – Abelmoschus manihot


Australian Society for Growing Australian Plants Australian Native Hibiscus:

Australian Society for Growing Australian Plants Fact Sheet:


FloraBase - Western Australia Flora Online – species description & distribution:


Plantnet - NSW Flora Online – species description & distribution: