Old World Tropics.
Now a common constituent of mangrove communities and low wave-action beaches; sometimes forms forests of seedlings at the high-tide line. Reported from natural areas, including Everglades National Park, in Monroe, Dade, Collier, Lee, Palm Beach, and Martin counties. Listed as a category I invasive species by Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC).
Evergreen shrubby tree, commonly to 13 m (40 ft) tall, with young branches minutely brown-scaly. Leaves alternate, simple, with petioles 5-10 cm (2-4 in) long; blades entire, heart shaped (poplar-like), shiny dark green above, 5-20 cm (2-8 in) long, with usually 5 main veins from base. Flowers showy, hibiscus-like, single at upper leaf axils, to 8 cm (3 in) across; corolla yellow with a red center, turning maroon by nightfall; stamens united into a column shorter than petals. Fruit a leathery, flattened, globose, 5-parted capsule, 4 cm (1.5 in) wide, yellow turning black, persisting unopened for a time and bearing several brown hairy seeds.
May be confused with another naturalized exotic, sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus L.), but its leaves wider, with dense star-shaped hairs on lower surfaces; and with the endangered Florida native, wild cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.), but its leaves opposite. Other mallow family members in Florida rarely reach tree stature (Nelson 1994).
Introduced for ornament in or before 1928. Naturalized in Florida shore hammocks and sand dunes by 1933, with spreading lower branches making “almost impenetrable thickets” and large fruit crops continuously increasing its dense growth. Noted as commonly naturalized in coastal areas of south Florida and the Keys.
In Florida, documented by herbarium specimens from southernmost counties and from Brevard County on the central east coast (Wunderlin et al. 1995).
Hand pull seedlings from landscape.