Hibiscus

Flamboyant showgirl with a funky heart

An abundance of shiny green foliage, a profusion of eye-catching flowers and easy-going. An added bonus is that the hibiscus peaks when the rest of the garden is getting past its best.  

Hibiscus Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Opulent flowering, sweeping branches and appealing flowers that you want to touch to check whether they really are real. Garden hibiscus is a relaxed bloomer that gives the whole garden a boost at the end of the summer. Hibiscus syriacus, as it is officially called, is also known as rose mallow. It’s a fresh green plant that is also grown as a standard tree. Garden hibiscus blooms from July until the autumn with magnificent bell-shaped flowers that can have single or double petals that range from violet to red, yellow, lilac and pure white. They all have a crimson heart with fantastic stamens. 

Beautiful late developer 

Hibiscus is hardy, but develops very late so don’t think that the plant has died if it’s still bare when the rest of the garden has come to life. Garden hibiscus just needs a bit longer to emerge from its rest period. Hibiscus also reaches peak flowering later, in August and September. When the rest of the garden is past its peak, this shrub bursts into action and produces endless new buds. One of the most magical aspects of garden hibiscus is that the flowers mainly close in the evening and open again the next day in the sun. The plant really follows the rhythm of life. 

Originates from China 

Hibiscus is a genus of some 220 plants that are native to subtropical and tropical regions. The plant originates from China and travelled to Western Europe via India, Syria and Turkey. It made a big impression en route: even the Taj Mahal features hibiscus motifs. Here in Europe the garden hibiscus has been a popular plant since the 19th century. It deserves a good position, because then it will last for a long time with  more beautiful flowers every year.  

Thanks to Gauguin 

The fact that the hibiscus has such a flamboyant tropical image despite the fact that the plant actually originates from temperate regions in China is thanks to impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. He often included the flowers in the paintings that he painted on Tahiti. In 1892 he even devoted an entire work to the shrub, fittingly called 'The Hibiscus Tree’. His work became so world-famous that the hibiscus unavoidably acquired a hint of the exotic, despite the fact that the first known depictions on Chinese porcelain were actually very restrained.  

Hibiscus trivia

  • Hibiscus is a member of the Malvaceae family. The name is Latin for ‘marshmallow’, a related plant (Althea officinalis) which is the main ingredient in the sweet treat of the same name.

  • In India the plant is called ‘sapatthu-mal’, which means ‘shoe flower’. The petals are used to polish shoes.    

  • The hibiscus is the national plant of South Korea, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

  • At the start of the 1940s Hollywood was gripped by hibiscus fever. Film star Dorothy Lamour wore the flowers in her hair in 'Aloma of the South Seas' (1940) and 'The Road to Utopia' (1944)

  • Garden hibiscus is the big half-sister of the house plant Chinese rose and includes okra, cotton, hollyhocks and Abutilon amongst its near relatives.  

  • In Polynesia hibiscus bark fibres are used to trim hula skirts.