Hibiscus

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Hibiscus

Family: Malvaceae

Also known as: Rose of Sharon, Rose of China, Rose Mallow, Rosella, flor de Jamaica or Shrub Althaceae

A brilliantly colored hibiscus is to the tropics what beans, around here, are to frijoles!

These sun loving beauties are of the evergreen sort.  Now, mind you, not in the sense of cedar or pine trees (as, years ago in my youth back in Kansas, we called them) but rather what the word says . . . ever green, year around! 

Throughout the warm, temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of the world, the vivid, five-petaled, mallowlike hibiscus flowers bloom in a wide array of colors and of slightly differing configurations.  Popular as free standing plants or landscape shrubs, they may also be effectively incorporated into tropical gardens or dramatically placed on terraces or balconies in pots.  Both singular and double varieties are readily available at nearly all Mexican nurseries.. 

 The large, showy and, usually, trumpet shaped flowers of this species are what give these plants their great allure.  (Some of us, slightly more seasoned sort, may recall Dorothy Lamour wearing one in her hair in the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road” pictures of the – dare I say it – 40’s!) 

In its totality, this genus consists of around 250 different annual and perennial herbaceous plants sized from smallish, woody shrubs to the awesome, 70-80 foot hibiscus macrophyllus trees. 

With the flower itself the general focus of attention of this family, it is worthy of note that the plant entirety of the noble appearing hisbiscus elatus is recognized as one of the most strikingly attractive tropical flowering trees is the world.

However, it is the eye striking beauty of the blooms which most of us seek.  As mentioned earlier, the majority of the hibiscus plants sport five-petaled flowers – the largest variety growing ones that are nearly one foot across – with longish, protruding central stamens and pistols.

In fact, beyond the blooms, a few of larger species are singularly magnificent appearing plants wholly unto themselves.  Some have simply beautiful leaves.  (In fact, the leaves of the hibiscus acetosella are purportedly edible and can be cooked or used in salads.)

 In Mexico an herbal tea, agua de Flor de Jamaica, is made by boiling the dehydrated hibiscus flowers – with sugar it tastes somewhat like cranberry juice. (At Casa Ola Brisa it is the preferred drink of choice after several hours of labor in the gardens!  Jams are made from it in the Caribbean.

In Polynesia, the hibiscus bark fibers are used to make grass skirts and even wigs.  In Southern India a ground paste shampoo of hibiscus leaves and flowers solves dandruff problems, while its petals are used to cure fever and its roots stop coughs.

But for those who seek only the beauty of its flowers, remember, it requires regular moisture, sandy, well-drained, loamy soil and some peat or pulverized coconut coir – more about that last item in a later column or see the variety of ways I employ it when touring our gardens!  And, recurring fertilization is a plus.  

There are a wide array of cultivars and hybrids spawned from the hibiscus rosa-sinensis and schizopetalus.  I have found the cultivars, generally, don’t grow as fast or well as the originals and simly. a bit more difficult to grow. 

Hibiscuse can be propagated by seed, cuttings or simple plantings – I’d encourage the latter. As long as the temperature stays warm, most of these are perpetual bloomers.

Plant, enjoy them, and every morning upon sighting your little beauties, greet them with a hearty “Hi  biscus”!

It’s a  “Hi-Biscus” kinda’ day!