Culture :: Hibiscus – The National Flower of Malaysia

Hibiscus The National Flower of Malaysia

The Malaysian symbol Hibiscus also known as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a tropical flower which belongs to the family of Malvaceae. It got its name from the Greek word in where Hibiscus means “mallow” and rosa-sinensis means “rose of China”. In Malaysia, the plant is largely found in the wild. The Malaysian calls the flower bunga raya or “flower of celebration” which happens to be the Malaysian pride and also the queen of the tropical flowers.


Even though the exact origin of the plant Hibiscus rosa-sinensis still remains unknown, its cultivation started in China, Japan and the Pacific islands for an equally long time and it is also generally thought to have originated in South China. The plant with deep-red flowers is believed to have an Asian origin, hence the name rosa-sinensis meaning ‘rose of China. However, two white-flowered hibiscus species, namely Hibiscus arnottianus and Hibiscus waimeae are believed to be native to Hawaii. There are around 300 species in relation to hibiscus are found in the tropics throughout the world. One species, Hibiscus tiliaceus or rather known as the Sea Hibiscus, is commonly found in Malaysia. Over a thousand hybrid varieties have been obtained and propagated for either a selected purpose or for an ornamental value. Hibiscus shrubs are usually made to grow into trees between 2 – 3 m tall. Hybrid hibiscus flowers these days are sighted to be available in pink, yellow, and orange, purple, lavender or in multicolour forms.


The Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the national flower of Malaysia which is also called as Bunga Raya in Malay. It was introduced into the Malay Peninsula around the 12th Century and was nominated as the national flower in the year 1958 by the Ministry of Agriculture amongst a few other flowers, such heating as ylang ylang, jasmine, lotus, rose, magnolia, and bunga tanjung. On 28 July 1960, it was declared by the government of Malaysia that the hibiscus would be the national flower representing the pride of Malaysia.

The word bunga in Malay means “flower”, whilst raya in Malay means “big” or “grand”. The hibiscus is literally known insulation as the “big or grand flower” in Malay. The red of the petals symbolizes the courage, life, fiery passion of Malaysian as well as rapid growth of the Malaysian while the five petals represent the five Rukun Negara of Malaysia which stands as the base to Malaysian life principles. The flower has a great impact on the country till it is also found imprinted on the notes and coins energy directory of the Malaysian ringgit.


Tree: It is a small tree, an evergreen shrub, growing to a maximum of 10 m in the wilds. Bark is light-grey, easily peelable and smooth.

Leaves: The leaves are usually elongate or ovate, simple, spirally arranged, 8 to 10.5 cm long and have a long stalk.

Flowers: They are single and trumpet-shaped, bisexual, have a stalk, arise from upper leaf axils and grow up to 25 cm in width. The five free petals joined at the base may be white, yellow or red in nature. Sepals are joined in a five-lobed cup with an epicalyx of five to seven lobes. Superior ovary has five stigmas with a long style. The plants flower perennially.

Fruits: The ovoid fruits have up to 20 seeds, are beaked and are split into five parts.



Hibiscus flowers are commonly used by Malays as a food dye in colouring toddy, agar-agar jellies, pineapple slices and cooked vegetables. A juice-drink made of hibiscus flowers was developed and is marketed together by the Malaysian Agricultural energy directory Research and Development Institute, University Malaya and the Terengganu government.


A decoction of hibiscus roots was used in Malay traditional healing, for the relief of venereal diseases and fever. The white and red flowers, made into a decoction and used as an antidote to poison. The juice of white coloured flowers is given to those suffering from seriawan, an ailment particularly symptomatically similar to trush, sprue or diphtheria. An infusion of the flowers was used as an expectorant in bronchitis, and after it was left overnight exposed to dew, it was also able to be used to treat gonorrhoea. Leaves were applied to boils and as poultices to provide relief from headaches and swellings. A preparation from the roots was used as eye-drops for sore eyes. In the Indonesia the flower buds, made into pulp, was applied to boils, mumps and swollen cancerous areas. The Dutch used the red flowers with papaya seeds to initiate an abortion of a foetus. Dutch midwives used the mucilage in labour and also gave draughts made of the juice of hibiscus leaves to women in labour. According to the Indian traditional hibiscus is also used in the ayurveda practices.

Other Uses

The juice of the hibiscus petals and flowers was used as a dye by the Chinese and Indians to blacken the eyebrows and hair. This usage was passed on to the Arabs and the Portuguese. Malays used the flowers in exorcism for epidemics and diseases. In Jamaica, it was used to polish shoes, hence the name, shoe flower. The Indonesians often refer it as “kembang sepatu” which literally means shoe flower due to its appearances. Hibiscus flowers are worn by women in the Pacific islands to show their status of being single.


Jegan Krishnan

(Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung, Indonesia)

Credited to: Budi Irawan S.S.i M.S.i


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