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The Meaning of a Hibiscus Flower

A close-up of a yellow hibiscus flower.
Tom Meaker / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

Just the word "hibiscus" evokes tropical breezes, the swaying of a hula dancer and the warmth of a summer evening. There are multiple types of hibiscus, however, and some are quite cold hardy.

But regardless of the species, hibiscus have a special place in many cultures, often symbolizing femininity, love or hope.

A gloriously red Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus​ ​rosa-sinensis) flower in full bloom.
Dinkun Chen, CC SA-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Which Hibiscus Is It?

The hibiscus mysteriously ranges from a tropical flower hardy only in very warm climates to flowers capable of thriving down to USDA zones 5. Here's how they break down:

  • Chinese hibiscus (​‌Hibiscus‌​ ​‌rosa-sinensis‌; USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11)​​
  • Hardy hibiscus (​‌H. moscheutos‌​;

zones 5 to 9) * Rose of Sharon (​‌H. syriacus‌​;

zones 5 to 8)

There are other plants in the ‌Hibiscu‌s genus that are not commonly called "hibiscus," but these three plants are those referred to as hibiscus. All have showy flowers with five petals, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in diameter with a prominent central stamen.

A handful of bright red hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) flowers open to the sun.
André ALLIOT, CC 1.0 Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Flower of Hope and Rebirth

Perhaps because the hibiscus flower lasts only a day before closing and dropping off the bush, it has traditionally symbolized hope and even resurrection or rebirth, in particular, in the Christian faith. To the Victorians, it served as a symbol of death, so you might see the hibiscus as representing the entire life cycle.

In the Buddhist religion, the hibiscus represents detachment and transience, themes that echo the short but poignant life of this flower.

The Flower of Femininity and Passion

In some cultures, the hibiscus embodies feminism along with love and passion. Their fleeting existence evokes an ephemeral, irresistible beauty.

A light pink rose of Sharon (​Hibiscus syriacus​) flower with a deep red center.
Wilhelm Zimmerling PAR, CC SA-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Meaning of Hibiscus Flower Colors

Different hibiscus flower colors have special significance: The purple hibiscus flower meaning, in particular, symbolizes uncommon beauty or wisdom and knowledge. It may be used to evoke royalty. The red hibiscus shouts passion and romance, while the softer pink hibiscus flower symbolizes friendship or family love.

The white hibiscus represents purity and innocence, and the yellow bloom symbolizes good luck and fortune. It might also mean happiness and joy.

The State Flower of Hawaii

The hibiscus is the most common flower in Hawaii that women use to adorn their hair, with its voluptuous petals usually framing an ear. But you'll also see them growing in gardens, on pathways, in the forest wild or even just on the side of the road.

As the official state flower of Hawaii, the hibiscus is on display throughout the islands, used frequently in logos, on billboards or just about everywhere to evoke the Aloha State.

Historically, its bark was used to make cords for making canoes or sandal straps. The wood was made into charcoal for heating and cooking.

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