Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a hardy, easy-to-grow shrub native to India and East Asia. This upright, deciduous plant grows to a height of 10 feet and produces large flat blossoms that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. It flowers in late summer and the colorful blooms generally remain until after the first frost. Also called "Althea" and "Aaron's beard," rose of Sharon is regaining popularity in the gardening market. It is grown practically worldwide as an ornamental plant. Rose of Sharon is the national flower of Korea.
The coastal plain of Sharon was one of the largest valley-plains in Palestine, extending from the Mediterranean to the west of Jerusalem. In the days of King Solomon, it was considered a wild, fertile plain hosting a myriad of colorful flowers. It is generally accepted by Christian and Hebrew scholars that this ensemble of crocuses, narcissus and asphodels are the flowers King Solomon refers to in his song.
The name "rose of Sharon" is usually identified with Bible scriptures. It first appeared in English in 1611 in the King James Version of the Bible. The song of Solomon has been referenced throughout history and has various interpretations. Many Christians believe the term "rose of Sharon" refers to Jesus and his perfected life and love. Others argue that it is a reference to the Shulamite wife of King Solomon. Other interpretations explain that "rose of Sharon" refers to the woman in a marriage relationship and still others claim it symbolizes the beauty and fruitfulness of the earth. Bible scholars now agree that the rose of Sharon of biblical times is not the modern day rose of Sharon shrub.
The rose of Sharon shrub was originally classified Hibiscus Syria by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century, according to the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. It has since been hybridized and the common name "rose of Sharon" is often applied to several different species of flowering plants. Recent trends in breeding include a variety in plant size and larger longer-lasting blooms. A big change in plant development came in the early 1970s when the U.S. National Arboretum introduced the Greek goddess series. These cultivars were more compact in size and produced sterile flowers that did not set seed. The Blue Bird, another release during that time period, is now a popular heirloom.
Rose of Sharon (Mugunghwa) is the national flower of Korea and is the symbol of the present and historic Yi Dynasty Korean royal family. It is a revered emblem as evidenced by its presentation on the Korean postage stamp, inclusion in Korean architecture and abundant display on Liberation Day. There are some 200 cultivars of Hibiscus syriacus in the country. In Korea, Mugunghwa means "immortality."
The rose of Sharon has been adapted by cultures and time periods worldwide. The flower was used as a food source in ancient China, according to the Hilton Pond Center. It has been used over the years as a skin emollient, but is also known for easing gastrointestinal disorders and high blood pressure, according to the 2001 edition of the Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Bible verses featuring the famed flower were favorites during the 19th century. These descriptive verses of ardent love were the inspiration for the rose of Sharon quilt block, often made into a bride's quilt. It was used as a character name in John Steinbeck's novel, "The Grapes of Wrath." Today, many businesses, organizations and institutions have adapted the name "rose of Sharon."