Hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae, that are native to warm temperate and tropical regions. The genus is quite large, comprising several hundred species that are native to warm temperate, subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world. The plants or shrubs of the species are known to have attractive looking flowers and all of these different variants are simply referred to as hibiscus or ‘rose mallow’. The species is quite diverse, not just in the variety of flowers, but also in growth patterns with some being annual and others perennial, and some comprising woody shrubs, while others are classified as the small trees.
Member species are renowned for their large, showy flowers and those species are commonly known simply as "hibiscus", or less widely known as rose mallow. Other names include hardy hibiscus, rose of sharon, and tropical hibiscus. The leaves are often lobed and may be smooth or covered in trichomes (plant hairs). The flowers can be borne singly or in clusters, and the flowers of many species last only a single day. An epicalyx (whorl of leaflike bracts that surrounds the sepals) is particularly common, and the stamens are typically fused into a tube. Members of the genus characteristically have spiny pollen, and their fruits are capsules. Several species are widely cultivated as ornamental plants, notably Hibiscus syriacus and Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.
Table of Contents
3 - 15 feet
2 - 8 feet
6.0 - 7.0
Growth Nutrition of Hibiscus
Hibiscus plants use relatively large quantities of N and K and far less P. At planting time and annually as new growth begins in spring, fertilizer with an analysis like 10-10-10 will provide a balanced startup feeding. For regular feeding, choose a plant food with a fertilizer analysis like 12-4-8 or 17-5-24.
Types of Hibiscus
Hibiscus flowers come under three main types:
Tropical Hibiscus: As the name suggests, they do well in warm climates, and are native to Hawaii. They come in a plethora of colors and prized for their bright and shiny flowers.
Perennial Hibiscus: These varieties go dormant in winters and then flower again in spring. They are unable to survive the infrequent cold snaps.
Hardy Hibiscus: They are hardy in colder climates and grow big, wide flowers and come in white, pink, and red colors.
The china rose is a popular Asiatic shrub, which is also known as a blackening plant since the flower is used for shoe polishing in the tropics. The plant primarily produces red flowers along with orange, pink, yellow single, and double petaled blossoms as well.
Native to the Mexico and United States, the shrub can be found clinging to the rocks. The triangular gray foliage is thin. The flower opens in the shades of white to deep purple and pink color.
Flower of an Hour
This flower variety is also known as hibiscus trionum. The plant can grow up to 4-5 feet in height and forms cream to yellow colored flowers. The flower of an hour can be an outstanding addition for decoration purposes as well!
The stunning blue shade of its flowers simply looks breathtaking and adds an instant curb appeal to any place they are planted! It grows 3-4 feet tall in full sun. It is one of the best types of hibiscus you can grow!
Rose of Sharon
Rose in Sharon flowers from late summer to mid-fall, in a variety of shades like purple, white, and violet colors. The shrub can reach up to 5-15 feet long with sharp oval-shaped leaves. Proper pruning helps the plant to produce larger flowers.
Native to India, Abelmosk is an annual variety that can reach up to 5-6 feet tall. Its flowers have bright yellow-lime green petals, with a dark centered leaves. This variety produces flowers with musk-like fragrance, the seeds of which can be added to coffee. As it is considered a weed, it’ll be better if you plant it in pots!
Giant Rose Mallow
Giant rose mallow displays pink to white flowers, with a dark red center, and copper-purple, glossy foliage. The flowers are produced in a sequence, from midsummer till the frost of fall. This hibiscus variety thrives well in full sun and moist soil.
This multicolored hibiscus variety is a perennial shrub that can grow up to 3-8 feet tall. The flower opens in the shades of pure white to deep rose with a maroon center, from summer to fall. This ornamental flower has 10-12 inches wide petal with dark green foliage.
Checkered hibiscus is a member of the Malvaceae family. It flowers in pink, white, red, and cream-toned flowers. The strikingly beautiful plant forms 4-5 inches wide flower. It thrives in well-drained soil and full to partial shade.
The black dragon variety has a deep burgundy shade and is not completely black. This flower has been awarded as ‘The Hibiscus of the Year’ from the American Hibiscus Society. It can grow up to 3-6 feet tall, in full sun to partial shade.
Cherry cheesecake hibiscus produces creamy-white petals, with magenta stripes and a dark red center. The thick petals have a ruffled look that can survive in harsh winds as well. It can grow up to 4-5 feet tall in full sun to partial shade. It is one of the best types of hibiscus you can grow!
Hawaiian hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii. It displays large, bright-colored petals that grow very fast and last long. This ornamental flower blossoms from spring through early summer, with an occasional flowering in the rest of the year.
Hibiscus sabdariffa is a popular variety that produces white to calyces red flowers, with a red spot on every petal. This variety is edible and used in herbal drinks, medicines, and as a flavoring agent in the food sector.
Also known as Confederate rose or Dixie rose mallow, it produces double flowers from summer to fall. Hibiscus mutabilis forms a 4-6 inch wide blossoms in pink and white color that turns red with time. The plant prefers well-drained soil and full to partial shade.
Scarlet rosemallow is a woody upright variety, which is also known as Texas Star hibiscus. It produces 3-4 inch wide red flowers and can grow up to 6-7 feet tall and prefers full sunlight.
Kenaf is a member of the Malvaceae family. The plant exhibits a 3-4 inch wide single, red flower. This variety is popular for the fiber, which is used in making jute. It prefers well-drained soil and a sunny location.
Hibiscus tiliaceus is also named as a sea and coast hibiscus. It produces bright yellow flowers covered with small shaft hairs on flexible stems. The plant has heart-shaped dark green leaves. It is used as a bonsai in many Asian countries, especially in Taiwan.
Hibiscus luna red is a compact, bushy plant that features five-petaled blossoms, with bright green foliage. The plant produces 6-8 inch wide flowers in well-drained, fertile soil. This variety dies back to the ground in winter and returns in summer.
Mango Liqueur produces beautiful 6-8 inches wide, orange and gold ruffly flowers on vigorous bushes. The plant is a cross between ‘Muffin Man’ and ‘Crème de Cacao’ and grow to a height of 10-12 feet. The plant is mainly used in party decorations and weddings.
This hybrid hibiscus variety showcases large, 6-8 inches wide flowers, with hoops of golden yellow, white, and candy pink. These blossoms have a bright red eye and orange tints over the edges. It can grow up to 15-20 feet tall.
‘Exuberance’ hibiscus is a hybrid of ‘Saffron’ and ‘Fireball.’ It flowers in orange, red, yellow, and pink shades. The plant produces large multicolored flowers that are 7-9 inches wide. Grow this shrub in full sun to partial shade. It is one of the best types of hibiscus you can grow!
‘Secret heart’ is a hybrid of ‘Rocket’s Red Glare’ and ‘Creme de Cacao.’ It flowers in pink and red shades in cold climates and opens in blue color in warm weather. The beautiful plant prefers alkaline soil for optimum growth
Sex on the Beach
‘Sex on the Beach’ is a tropical hibiscus that produces vibrant, 6-8 inches wide flowers. This stunning hibiscus has a star-shaped, bright orange center, with deep yellow outer edges. Grow this shrub in full sun to partial shade.
The ‘Aphrodite’ has large, dark pink flowers with beautiful yellow centers. The deep fuchsia-colored blossoms look beautiful with velvety dark green foliage. This plant flowers in mid to late summer and grow up to 3-5 feet tall, in a sunny or partial shade.
Luna Pink Swirl
This hardy perennial is valued for its large pink and white flowers with red centers. The plant can reach up to 5-7 feet tall and forms 6-8 inches wide flowers. Grow this hibiscus variety in well-drained, moist, and fertile soil.
Blue River II
This hibiscus variety flowers from mid-summer to early fall. Its flower has a shorter life span that lasts not more than a day. The plant can reach up to 12-14 feet. Grow this striking plant in full sun and use rich organic soil for best flowering.
‘Lord Baltimore’ is a herbaceous perennial that can grow up to 4-5 feet tall. It produces 8-10 inches wide, large, bright red flowers with glossy green leaves and ruffled edges. The plant flowers from mid-summer to early fall.
‘Bedazzled’ is a hybrid between ‘Tis Huge’ and ‘Standing Ovation.’ It is a double hibiscus that forms 6-8 inches wide ruffled deep orange flower. The flower does not lose its deep color even in the hot summer sun.
Famous for its flashy foliage, that comes in magnificent shades of copper and burgundy, that somewhat resembles the shade of a maple tree. The plant grows funnel-shaped flowers in shades of yellow and red.
The plant features variegated leaves coming in beautiful combinations of pink, white, and green. It grows round flowers in deep red color with canary yellow anthers. It is made by grafting and can also be planted in outdoor pots and containers
When to Plant Hibiscus
Rose Mallow and Swamp Hibiscus can be purchased as young plants from nurseries or started from seed or cuttings. They should be planted in the spring.
Seeds can be sown indoors 12 weeks before the last spring frost.
Alternatively, seeds can be sown outdoors after the last expected frost date.
Rose of Sharon are typically purchased as small shrubs.
Plant in spring or fall.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
Choose a site that gets full or partial sun.
Fertile, well-draining soil will produce the healthiest plants. Hibiscus are tolerant of alkaline soils, but will grow best in neutral to slightly acidic soil.
To avoid breakage of the long stems, plant hibiscus where they won’t be exposed to strong winds.
How to Plant Hibiscus
Plant potted hibiscus plants so that their stems are just at the soil surface.
Water well at the time of planting.
The hibiscus species that die back each year can be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Consider the potential height and width (up to 12 feet and 10 feet, respectively) of a mature Rose of Sharon before planting.
How to Grow Hibiscus From Seed
Growing hibiscus from seeds is more challenging than propagating from cuttings. They often take a long time to germinate and need a fair bit of attention.
Nicking the hard seed coating slightly and soaking the seeds for up to eight hours can speed up the germination process as it allows more moisture to penetrate the seed. For best results, place the seeds in a warm, sunny location (at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and sow seeds about a quarter-inch deep.
After a few weeks, seedlings should appear. With their fragile stems, they will need careful translating and gradual hardening off.
How to Get Hibiscus to Bloom
The exotic flowers on a hibiscus are short-lived, lasting from just one to three days. But if you have a healthy plant, they should produce many flowers through their growing season from late spring through fall.
To prevent flower drop, make sure the plant is not being exposed to temperatures that are too hot or too cold. Frost is a problem, even for hardy varieties, and prolonged temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit will cause flowering problems even for tropical hibiscus.
Deadheading isn't necessary, but bloom production can be impacted if your plant is overly dry or is not receiving enough nutrients or sunlight.
The care you provide your hibiscus will vary depending on whether it is a hardy or tropical variety and whether it is grown indoors or outdoors.
Hibiscus love bright conditions. In northern climes, full sun is often best, but in the intense, dry heat of the south, filtered sunlight is better. If you find that your plant isn't producing many blooms, move the plant to a sunnier location.
Indoor tropical hibiscus will need a bright spot near a sunny window but keep it away from strong, direct sunlight. If you are transferring your plants outdoors when the warmer weather arrives, gradually acclimate them to the brighter conditions.
All hibiscus do best in well-drained, fertile, moist, loamy soil. The hardy varieties are wetland natives and are a good choice for sites that are too wet for other plants.
Most hibiscus prefer a slightly acidic soil pH, but the rose of Sharon is tolerant of alkaline conditions. The color of hibiscus flowers can be affected by the soil acidity level.
Mulching around the plant base can help with moisture retention if your location is experiencing dry conditions. For nutrient-poor soil, amending with organic matter will be beneficial.
All hibiscus are thirsty plants that need to be kept moist. Indoor tropical hibiscus benefit from regular watering from spring to early autumn during the growing season. Significantly reduce watering during dormant periods. For container-grown plants, ensure the top inch or so of potting mix dries out fully before watering—saturated soil is also problematic, and make sure containers have adequate drainage holes.
Depending on the conditions, you might need to water your hibiscus daily to help it produce an abundance of blooms.
If your hardy hibiscus are not planted near a pond or in another wet area, water them on a regular basis to keep them moist.
Temperature and Humidity
Rose of Sharon and hardy hibiscus can grow in cool, temperate climates. They thrive in temperatures from 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit but can handle temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit and frost is a risk, bring container-grown plants indoors. However, be mindful of their higher humidity requirements—which is why bathrooms are a good location for these plants.
Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit can kill tropical varieties, so they are best housed in humid locations indoors in regions where this is likely to occur.
To encourage abundant, healthy blooms with good color, feed plants with a high potassium and high nitrogen fertilizer. Fish emulsion and seaweed extract are organic fertilizers. Feed a half-strength solution just before the start of the bloom period and continue at least once every few weeks until the end of flowering.
Pruning and Propagating Hibiscus
Hardy hibiscus benefit from annual winter pruning once they are established. Cutting the plant back after flowering, especially dead, damaged, and diseased branches and old wood growing in the center of the plant can aid air circulation and keep the plant looking tidy. Don't worry if you cut back aggressively; this species can handle it.
Most hibiscus propagation is from cuttings. Select a four- to six-inch piece stem from new, vigorous growth. Keep the leaves at the top of the stem but remove all the rest. You might want to dip the cut end in rooting hormone before potting in a well-drained, moist potting soil. It can take a couple of months for the root system to fully develop.
Potting and Repotting Hibiscus
Nutrient-loving potted hibiscus will benefit from being repotted every couple of years in early spring. Avoid deep pots, otherwise the plant will spend a lot of its energy on root development, and you want it to focus on flower production.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Spider Mites : Spider mites are tiny and you can’t see them without any eye aid. But sometimes you can see their webs on the stem and branches of your plant. Spider mites will feed off your plant and make the leaves look mottled. The good news is that Spider Mites usually won’t kill a plant and they’re easy to treat. You can remove them by giving your Hibiscus a gentle blast with the hose. You can also use chemical treatments in severe cases.
Aphids: Aphids are tiny insects and they can be green, white, or red. They feed on the plant’s leaves, giving them a mottled look, just like spider mites. But unlike Spider mites, sometimes you can see aphids in rows on the leaves. If your Hibiscus has aphids then its leaves won’t grow well. And they’ll look yellow and unhealthy. Aphids release honeydew which is sweet and attractive to ants. If ants are interested in your Hibiscus this could be a sign of aphids. It’s important to get aphids under control quickly because they can cause lots of damage. A natural way to treat aphids is by introducing predator insects such as Lady Bugs and Lacewings. These will eat the aphids but leave the rest of your plant intact. You can also spray your Hibiscus with a hose to remove aphids or use an insecticide.
Thrips: These insects are responsible for bud drop in Hibiscus. They get inside the buds, harming them before these buds even get a chance to bloom. Thrips are small, dark, and elongated. If you shake your Hibiscus over some white paper then you’ll easily see thrips.
Other signs of thrips include scratch-like marks on the leaves. The adult thrips lay eggs in Hibiscus buds. Their larvae eat everything inside, making the buds change their color before they drop off. When the bud reaches the soil, the larvae burrow into the earth to hatch out. So you must remove all affected buds before they drop. If you treat thrips with insecticide then use a systematic one. Sprays won’t penetrate the larvae inside the buds.
A disease is something that affects the plant systematically, from the inside. Often it comes from the roots or soil. Diseases can be caused by poor environmental conditions as well as fungi and bacteria.
Dieback Disease: If you notice that your Hibiscus has localized wilting (meaning the wilted parts only occur in one branch), this is a clear indication of dieback disease. Dieback disease is caused when fungus gets into a damaged branch. This usually occurs through a small crack or a break in the branch or stem. Dieback disease is easy to recognize and treat. Usually, only one branch will look wilted and unhealthy and the rest of the plant won’t be affected. With dieback disease, it’s simply a case of removing the affected branch with clean clippers. Treatment also means cleaning away any other affected areas.
Wilt Disease: Wilt Disease aka root rot is a common fungal infection among plants, including the Hibiscus. This fungi gets in through the roots and takes over your plant’s capillary system. This stops your plant from absorbing water and nutrients which are vital for its health. This is one of the most severe Hibiscus diseases. But if you catch it the soonest time, it’s possible to save your plant. Rotted roots aren’t the only sign of this disease. In fact, by the time the root has rotted then it’s usually hard for the plant to recover. Root rot affects the whole plant making it look wilted and unhealthy. Unlike other Hibiscus diseases, with root rot, the leaves don’t turn yellow. Instead, they’ll stay green and go darker. Overwatering can cause root rot. So if your plant is wilting and the soil is wet, this is a sign of Wilt Disease. If your plant is suffering from wilt disease you can try and save it with a root wash.
Common Problems With Hibiscus
Hibiscus are rather particular about conditions, and if you can't meet their requirements, there are some common problems to watch out for.
If you see your plant's leaves turning yellow, it could be that you are subjecting it to sudden changes in weather conditions, not watering correctly, or not fertilizing often enough. Expect a little yellowing during the transitional seasons of spring and fall, but anything extreme merits further investigation.
Dropping of Buds
Extremes in temperature, not enough light or humidity, and over or under watering can cause bud drop.
Benefits of Hibiscus
Hibiscus has a long history of use as a medicinal herb and it is believed to be effective in the treatment of various health conditions like appetite loss, common cold, upper respiratory tract pain and swelling, stomach irritation, and heart and nerve disorders among others.
Cure for Hypertension: Hibiscus tea has often been recommended as a cure for hypertension or high blood pressure, and this is one claim that has been validated by not one, but several studies. In some studies, it was clearly shown that the daily intake of hibiscus tea had a similar effect to medications for hypertension. One of these studies revealed that there was a marked improvement in hypertensive patients who were administered hibiscus tea as opposed to among those given a placebo.
Lowers Bad Cholesterol Levels: Hibiscus has been said to lower bad cholesterol or LDL levels when consumed in the form of a tea. This ability of hibiscus tea to lower cholesterol levels has been investigated on more than one occasion and the evidence is encouraging. Bioflavonoids in the tea are believed to be responsible for this cholesterol regulating action. In one such study, it was found that the intake of hibiscus tea not only controlled LDL or bad cholesterol levels, it also improved the levels of HDL or good cholesterol.
Protection against Free-Radical Damage: Hibiscus contains an abundance of antioxidants and this is believed to give it some amount of protective properties against some forms of cancer like stomach cancer and leukemia. Laboratory studies revealed that there was also a reduction in the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol and reduced formation of arterial plaque. It is also believed that consuming hibiscus tea may offer some amount of protection to the liver and kidneys.
Helps in Weight Loss: Hibiscus tea and extract has also been popularized as a natural appetite suppressant that can help to lose weight. In one study it was also found that fat cell development was inhibited at an early stage because of an effect on the genes responsible for fat cell generation. While the idea of sipping on an herbal tea may seem quite enticing as opposed to taking dangerous medications to suppress your appetite there is a lot more research required. Keep in mind that consuming too much hibiscus can also raise toxicity levels and cause other health problems.
Fighting Colds and the Blues: Hibiscus tea is rich in an assortment of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C. In addition to an immune-boosting effect that probably explains its use as a folk remedy for the cold, this is also believed to help improve one’s feelings of relaxation and may reduce anxiety and stress. There is no evidence as yet to support these claims.
Relieves Constipation: According to some naturopaths, hibiscus tea works extremely well as a laxative because of naturally occurring fruit acids. Hibiscus tea was incidentally a popular folk remedy for constipation in Germany. Apparently, the regular consumption of hibiscus tea helps to regularize bowel movements and may even offer relief from common digestive issues.
The flowers are widely used as organic herbal tea, and seeds are often a coffee substitute.
Hibiscus leaves are used for culinary purposes. The raw leaves are considered a vegetable.
Red calyces act as food colourants and dyes.
Fresh or dried calyces are used to prepare herbal drinks, fermented drinks, wine, jam, jellies, ice cream, chocolates, flavouring agents, puddings, and cakes.
Hibiscus edible seed oil is used as a substitute for castor oil and to produce scrubs and soaps.
One species of Hibiscus, known as kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus), is extensively used in paper-making.
The roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is used as a vegetable.
The inner bark of the sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus), also called 'hau', is used in Polynesia for making rope, and the wood for making canoe floats. The ropes on the missionary ship Messenger of Peace were made of fibres from hibiscus trees.