Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hardy Hibiscus (and Native too)

Hibiscus is an exceptionally tropical looking genus of flowering plants. My tall “Texas star” hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) is blooming this week and it sure looks like it belongs in Hawaii. Yet it and several other species are indeed native to the southeastern US; in Georgia they are largely native to the Coastal Plain.

Hibiscus coccineus
This robust wetland native – sometimes called swamp hibiscus – can be found in ditches and wet areas from South Georgia to Florida and west to Texas. It grows up to 7 feet tall with several stems per plant and interesting palmate leaves that tease the neighbors’ curiosity about what you might be growing.

While H. coccineus flowers in late summer, some of its relatives bloomed earlier. 

Hibiscus laevis (Photo by Mary Tucker)

My friend Mary lives nearby and grows two additional species: Hibiscus laevis (halberdleaf rosemallow) and Hibiscus moscheutos (crimsoneyed rosemallow). 

H. laevis grows up to 6 feet tall and has a distinctive lobed leaf reminiscent of a medieval halberd.

Hibiscus moscheutos (Photo by Mary Tucker)

H. moscheutos grows up to 5 feet tall and the large leaves have a whitish cast on the undersides, according to Mary. Both have a much larger range in the US, but still are chiefly Coastal Plain residents in Georgia.
Hibiscus grandiflorus (Photo by Ed McDowell)

Another friend grows Hibiscus grandiflorus (also called swamp hibiscus) in middle Georgia. At Ed’s house, this giant hibiscus enjoys growing right on the edge of a lake, its roots submerged most of the time. 

Hibiscus grandiflorus habit
(Photo by Ed McDowell)

Perhaps the largest of all these described here, H. grandiflorus can reach 10 feet with fuzzy lobed leaves up to 10 inches across. According to Floridata, it has one of the largest flowers of any plant in North America. Also, unlike the others, the flowers open in the evening and are fragrant. 

One hibiscus that gets passed around a lot in the South is a large, late-blooming species affectionately known as Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis). Despite both its names, it is neither a rose nor native.

If you have a sunny moist spot (or even a large container), consider treating yourself to one of our native Hibiscus as a specimen perennial. The flowers only last a day, but they are mighty special.

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