Celebrating Guåhan’s pågo flowers | Way of life

One of the best-known flowers of the Pacific Ocean is surely the hibiscus flower, which decorates the island’s clothes and cups, as well as flavored tea and scented shampoo. The hibiscus flower is available in all colors, shapes and sizes and is a popular ornamental plant for landscaping.

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


The pågo tree can reach 20 to 30 feet tall along the curved coasts of Guåhan and in marshy 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 greyish leaves are heart-shaped.

A history of botany

The flowers of the Pågo tree are beautiful. The funnel-shaped corolla, or petals, are bright yellow with a dark brown center, surrounded at the base by five sepals, which protect the developing bud. The petals turn from orange to red before the flower drops. This happens at the end of each day. Fortunately, new flowers appear the next day.

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

Pollination occurs when pollen adheres to the stigma. Pollen transport follows via the style to the ovary to fertilize the ovules, which produce seeds.

The peculiarity of 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 appearance with the anthers emerging from the filaments just below the stigma.

This botanical configuration reminds me of a dancing couple, with the female adorned by the beautiful flower petals while the male provides stunning feathers sticking out to the side.

Pago fruit

The pågo’s brown fruit capsules have a pointed top and golden hairs. When ripe, they split open to reveal a set of five seeds.

The fibers of the stems and branches of pågo are long and flexible and are an excellent material for producing ropes.

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

But when you immediately need a rope in the jungle, you can pull out a piece of bark and immediately use it as rope.

Pågo is also used for canoe parts and furniture because the wood is hard, but flexible.

Treatment of boils

As a biologist, I often get stung by wasps. Once I was bitten by yellow jackets which left me with over 15 bites. The ones on my arm were very close together which caused an infection a few days later.

When I checked the over-the-counter ointment at the pharmacy, they told me I would have to take oral antibiotics.

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

Luna, my daughter, pounded the flowers, leaves and stem of the rock plant, together with the flowers of the hibiscus and its buds, into a paste which was then applied to the abscess in my skin for a few days.

I could feel the infection resolving on its own and after a week my arm was back to normal. You can use any hibiscus for this, be it pågo or ornamentals.

Other traditions

There are many other traditional uses of pågo.

The Micronesian culture and many other Pacific Island cultures use hibiscus for grass skirts. The Pohnpeans use the inner bark of the hibiscus, or koaloau/kolou, in the preparation of the local sakau and for the production of yams.

How can I help you?

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

Finally, use our native pågo flower colors when depicting a hibiscus flower. I’m always thrilled to see native flowers depicted in place of their non-native ornamental counterparts on advertisements or company logos.

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