Although not so well known amongst general gardeners, Thespesia acutiloba is a beautiful hardy, semi-deciduous small tree or large shrub with large, decorative, shiny, ivy-like leaves. It only reaches a height of 3 to 4m in the landscapes, but may grow up to 6 m high in its natural environment. The tree is endemic to coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal. It also grows well in woodlands and fringes of mangrove swamps.
Leaves of Thespesia acutiloba are 3 lobed, nearly circular and covered with fine hairs. They are dark green and shiny on the upper surface; they are pale green on the underside. This tree branches from the base giving it a bushy appearance. The interesting grey bark becomes deeply furrowed as it matures. From November to May the Wild tulip tree bears attractive, Hibiscus-like, lemon yellow flowers that close mid-afternoon and turn pinkish-brown as they age. These are followed by round, bright red fleshy berry fruits that attract birds.
Although it can only handle light frost, the Wild tulip tree is able to withstand long periods of drought. This tree is suitable for planting in coastal areas as it can withstand large amounts of salt spray. Because of its low-growing habit, Thespesia acutiloba can make a beautiful container plant. It is also a suitable option for small to medium gardens.