Known for its exotic-looking blooms, the hibiscus has earned the title “Queen of the Tropics”. With over 200 varieties and a myriad of brilliantly colored blooms to choose from, you can create your own tropical paradise by planting hibiscuses in your yard. Although the blooms look exotic, this plant is tough and withstands our hot weather well, even blooming during our hottest summer days.
The 200 or more hibiscus varieties can be categorized into three main types: tropical, perennial and shrub hibiscus. Tropical hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, is the variety sold at most nurseries.
It is no shrinking violet and produces large blossoms awash with brilliant shades of white, pink, red, orange, purple and yellow. Its vibrant flowers, 4-8 inches wide, scream “Look at me!” to attract the attention of anyone passing by. Its flamboyant blooms also attract a variety of pollinating insects and hummingbirds on the hunt for a tasty meal. The blooms are short-lived, lasting only a day or two. Luckily, in our warm climate, a hibiscus blooms almost year round.
It is best to plant a hibiscus in the fall or early spring when temperatures are cooler. It can be grown as a single shrub that grows 4-5 feet high and wide or planted 4-6 feet apart to form a hedge that can be pruned to any size you wish. A hibiscus also grows well in a large container to brighten a patio or front porch. Twice a year, feed with a mild solution of Miracle-Gro and water. Each year, prune the plant’s branches to maintain good form and correct size for its location.
A hibiscus requires full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Plants grown in too much shade will become tall and leggy. Inadequate light will also limit flowering. Pruning a tropical hibiscus each fall will help your plant produce more flowers, since flowers form on new growth. Prune away dead, broken and diseased branches.
In 1753, Carl Linnaeus gave the tropical hibiscus its scientific name, ‘Hibiscus rosa-sinensis’, which means “rose of China”. Its common name, “hibiscus,” comes from the Greek word, “hibiskos” which is the name for the common marsh mallow plant.
It is thought the hibiscus originated in tropical Asia. In fact, it is known as the “shoe flower” in Asia where its petals are used to polish shoes. Two hibiscus varieties are native to Hawaii, with ‘Hibiscus brachenridgei’ named as Hawaii’s state flower. Like Hawaii’s bright sunshine, the state flower is a yellow color with red veining in the center. In both Tahiti and Hawaii, a hibiscus flower is traditionally worn by a married woman behind her left ear and behind the right ear of a single woman.
Agua de Jamaica ( AH-gwa day ha-my-ica) is a favorite beverage in Mexico and the U.S. and is made by steeping dried flower calyxes in boiling water and then straining the liquid. The hibiscus variety used to make agua de jamaica is a red-flowered plant called ‘Hibiscus sabdariffa’, or “Roselle”. Dried Roselle calyxes are sold at most Mexican markets as “flor de Jamaica”. You can also purchase Red Zinger tea, which contains Hibiscus sabdariffa. Seeds for Hibiscus sabdariffa are sold at terroirseeds.com, a small seed company in Chino Valley, AZ. The perennial hibiscus, Hybiscus moscheutos, is commonly called rose mallow. It grows 3-6 feet tall and wide. Large blooms, 6-9 inches across, have earned it the nickname “dinner plate hibiscus”. Its flowers bloom in shades of red, pink, lavender and white. Interestingly, perennial hibiscus plants do not produce red or yellow blossoms. Many varieties have blooms with a contrasting color in their centers. This vigorous plant produces blooms from spring until first frost.
A perennial hibiscus tolerates colder weather better than the tropical hibiscus and grows well in zones 5-9b. As its name implies, this plant is not evergreen and drops its leaves in winter. Before the plant leafs out in spring, gardeners prune its branches, leaving 3-5 inches. The plant will grow new branches from its roots, not from the pruned branches. In northern areas, deer pass this plant by.
The shrub, Hibiscus syriacus, is commonly called “Rose of Sharon”. Its 2-3 inch blooms can be single or double, with pink, purple, blue or white flowers. Shrub hibiscus does not produce yellow, red or orange blossoms. Reaching up to 12 feet in height and 5-6 feet in width, it is often grown along a fence or used to screen an ugly view or provide privacy to a yard. It grows in planting zones 5-8. According to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Rose of Sharon is toxic to canines if ingested.
If you are looking for colorful flowers and an evergreen shrub to brighten your yard, consider planting a tropical hibiscus.