More than 200 species of hibiscus belong to the Malvaceae plant family, which also includes hollyhocks, cotton and okra. Many of the members of the Hibiscus genus are tropical in origin, making them sensitive to cold weather. Great variation exists among the Hibiscus genus, but all members produce colorful flowers, most of which bloom for only one day, making them less than desirable choices as cut flowers.
Rose of Sharon
Called the hardy hibiscus, the Rose of Sharon, or Hibiscus syriacus, is grown as a hedge as far north as Iowa and southern Illinois. Most varieties sport white to pink flowers, but some produce blooms in hues of red to purple. This hibiscus takes well to pruning, so you can shape several plants into a privacy hedge or form separate plants as shrubs. Without pruning, the hardy hibiscus can grow to 8 feet in height.
Hibiscus sabdariffa is a tropical variety and its claim to fame is its use in “Red Zinger” tea blends. Leaves taste lemony and when you add them to salads, they add a red color and a tangy taste. Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers are dusty rose in color and are also edible. When they fade, after just one morning of blooming, they form hips, similar to rosehips, which are rich in vitamin C. It is these hips that are dried and packaged as a tea. The plant produces large numbers of viable seeds, which often drop to the ground and start new wildflowers in tropical locations. They grow best in sunny, tropical areas that receive plenty of rain, from sea level to about 1,800 feet in elevation.
Hawaii State Flower
The Hibiscus brackenridgei, or ma’o hau hele, became the state flower of Hawaii in 1988. It is classified as an endangered species, due mainly to land clearing, home and road building. It produces a single flowering yellow bloom, about 4 inches across, with a red throat. Plants can grow as tall as small trees, up to 15 feet tall. It prefers the leeward, or western, sides of the Hawaiian Islands, where rainfall is significantly less than on the windward, or eastern, sides of the Islands. It prefers elevations of 400 to 2,600 feet and is, or was, found on all of the larger Hawaiian Islands. Since 1998, the Hawaii legislature has allowed home cultivation of this plant and other endangered Hawaiian native plants, which is helping to keep them off the extinct list.
Hibiscus waimeae is native to the western and northern regions of the island of Kauai. It grows into a small tree up to 30 feet tall. The flowers are white with long red stamens and they have a light scent, which is unusual for most Hibiscus genus plants. It prefers moist forests from 800 feet to almost 4,000 feet in elevation. Although this species is not classified as endangered, it is considered rare. It is propagated from seeds and cuttings, and also by air layering and grafting. It can be found for sale at specialty nurseries in Hawaii.
Australian Native Hibiscus
Australia is the home of several members of the Hibiscus genus. The Northern Territory’s flower emblem is the Gossypium sturtianum, according to Hibiscus.org. Its pale pink flowers have a crimson throat and the plant’s leaves are pale gray-green. The white flowering Hibiscus heterophyllus occurs on the Eastern coast of Australia and has been used in the making of fiber bags and preserves. The flower buds are sometimes eaten raw in salads and cooked like a vegetable. Near Melbourne, this same species has yellow flowers. Australian Hibiscus species generally thrive in dry areas that have partial shade.
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