Hibiscus flowers often bring the tropics to mind. Surprise! Hardy Hibiscus, or Hibiscus moscheutos, a member of the Malvaceae family, are native to the midwestern and eastern areas of the United States. Growing in the wild, they are found in boggy sites and close to waterways. Take the hint when siting – they like moisture.
The selections and cultivars found for sale today have been developed from those native hibiscus plants. Breeding has included crosses with hibiscus found in other parts of world to give discerning gardeners the biggest flowers on beautiful leafy bases. Flower colors range between white, red, all shades of pink, and light yellows. Heights from two feet to eight feet accommodate almost any garden.
When looking at a hibiscus flower in full bloom, the center “brush” is very distinctive and one of the first things noticed. This interesting structure is a fusion of the male (stamen) and female (pistil) reproductive parts of the plant. While the variable color combinations of this structure are always beautiful, the function is reproduction.
As true perennials, Hibiscus moscheutos will push new stems up from the ground every year. One of the biggest gardening issues with the plant is that it doesn’t start that push until very late in the spring, often not really showing appreciable stem growth until June. This causes many impatient gardeners to dig up and discard perfectly healthy hibiscus just because they are sleeping in a bit. Admittedly, those dry looking sticks do give one pause in May, but the hardiness zones have been tested and listed as 4 – 9 (cultivar dependent). Be patient.
In a typical garden setting, hibiscus will grow well in rich, moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. If pH is on either side of the optimal range, don’t worry, they’re quite tolerant. Full sun with plenty of moisture will ensure a continuous supply of big, bold, yet short-lived flowers from mid-summer through frost. As hibiscus tolerate a considerable amount of temporary water, consider placement in a rain garden with like-minded plant companions. Feed them well and often after flowering starts.
Pruning is simple. Tidy up the plant by cutting back the dead stems in late winter or early spring. As the new shoots emerge, some gardeners like to pinch back the early growth to encourage denser branching. Fun, but not necessary.
Malvaceae family plants are numerous, filled with sticky mucilage and include many that are beautiful and useful – abutilon, okra, cotton, and hollyhock. Many of the family members are edible in part or whole. Case in point, Hibiscus moscheutos flower and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.