Flowers

Celebrating Guåhan’s pågo flowers | Lifestyle

One of the most widely known flowers throughout the Pacific Ocean is surely the hibiscus flower, decorating island wear and mugs as well as flavoring tea and scenting shampoo. The hibiscus flower comes in all colors, shapes and sizes and is a popular ornamental landscaping plant.

The hibiscus I would like to highlight today is the native Hibiscus tiliaceus, or pågo. Its traditional usages are extensive, as it is a versatile plant.

Characteristics

The pågo tree can grow up to 20 to 30 feet tall along Guåhan’s bending coastlines and in swampy habitats, riparian areas and limestone forests.

The bark of the tree varies from gray to brownish. Short, soft hairs cover many parts of the plant. The velvety white to grayish leaves are heart-shaped.

A botanical story

Pågo tree flowers are stunning. The funnel-like corolla, or petals, is bright yellow with a dark maroon center, surrounded at the base with five sepals, which protect the developing bud. The petals turn orange to red before the flower drops. This occurs by the end of every day. Fortunately, new flowers appear the next day.

The reproductive parts make a hibiscus flower special. The pistil is the name of the female reproductive part and is a long, tubular organ composed of an ovary, style and stigma. The male reproductive parts are called stamens, which consist of a filament and pollen sac, or anthers, attached to it. The anthers produce the pollen.

Pollination occurs when the pollen sticks to the stigma. Transport of the pollen follows via the style to the ovary to fertilize the ovules, which produces seeds.

What is special about hibiscus flowers is that the filaments of the stamen fuse into a tube surrounding the style, or female part, giving the hibiscus flower a unique look with the anthers sticking out from the filaments right underneath the stigma.

This botanical set up reminds me of a dancing couple, with the female decorated by the beautiful flower petals while the male provides stunning feathers sticking out on the side.

Pågo fruit

The brown fruit capsules of the pågo have a sharp apex and golden hairs. Once ripe, they break open and reveal a set of five seeds.

The fibers of the stems and branches of pågo are long and flexuous and make for an excellent material to produce ropes.

When my parents visited us from Belgium 15 years ago, they attended a workshop at Gef Pa’go that featured rope making. When soaked in water and dried, the bark gained tensile strength, priming it for its use as a rope.

But when you immediately need a rope in the jungle, you can strip off a piece of the bark and use it as cordage right away.

Pågo is also used for parts of the canoe and furniture as the wood is tough, yet flexible.

Treatment for boils

As a biologist, I often get stung by wasps. One time I was stung by yellow jackets, leaving me with over 15 stings. The ones in my upper arm were really close together, which caused an infection a few days later.

When I checked out over-the-counter ointment at the pharmacy, they told me I should get oral antibiotics.

But when my daughter, at the time only 4 years old, told her Yapese teachers at school about my infection, they taught her how to prepare traditional medicine using hibiscus and the rock plant Pilea microphylla, which is also known for its antibacterial activity.

Luna, my daughter, pounded the rock plant’s flowers, leaves and stem, along with the flowers of the hibiscus and its buds, into a paste that was later applied to the abscess on my skin for a couple of days.

I could feel the infection resolve itself and after a week my arm was back to normal. You can use any hibiscus for that, either the pågo or the ornamental ones.

other traditions

There are many other traditional pågo uses.

Micronesian and many other Pacific island cultures use hibiscus for grass skirts. Pohnpeians use the inner bark of hibiscus, or koaloau/kolou, in the preparation of local sakau and for yam production.

How can you help?

Although pågo is still very abundant on Guåhan, I think the use of native plants in landscaping increases its cultural value. Please consider planting this native tree, as it has so many connections to the CHamoru culture. If you prefer, you can trim pågo, as the low branches can interlace and form impassable thickets.

Lastly, use our native pågo flower colors when depicting a hibiscus flower. I’m always excited to see native flowers being depicted instead of their non-native ornamental counterparts on advertisements or as company logos.

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