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Historical Hibiscus from Hawaii and Around the World

Updated on April 19, 2013
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I have a deep interest in nature, gardening, and sustainability. The local arboretum is my universe of learning, and my garden is my lab!

My favorite hibiscus "Diana"
My favorite hibiscus "Diana" | Source

Hibiscus- Where do they Originate?

The yellow hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii, and hibiscus rosa sinsensis is the national flower of Malaysia. The term rosa sinsensis translates to "rose of China". You may think they originated in Hawaii, but no, like so many other flowers we have come to love, the stately hibiscus most likely hails from southern China. They are found almost all over tropical, sub tropic and temperate parts of the world. Hibiscus falls into the family Malvaceae and in the genus hibiscus. Not surprisingly, hollyhocks fall into this family of plants. If you take a look at them, you will see the similarities. Hibiscus flowers are very dramatic looking and at the same time have a simple form. It is generally a five petaled flower, but some can have double or "very" double flowers, (which simply means there are a lot of petals on one flower). The most interesting thing about a hibiscus is the stamen and center of the flower. If you look closely at the center of the flowers, the negative space formed by the petals (the spaces between the base of petals) forms a perfectly symmetrical star). The world of flowers is just full of pleasant surprises! On the larger varieties, the stamen almost looks like a spaceship with satellites orbiting it. But, the satellites are in a perfect circle with small circular discs on each "station" of the satellite.

Also called the Rose of Sharon, hibiscus include at least 200 shrubs, perennials, annuals and trees from which to choose. A wide array of colors makes them a treasure for gardeners. They usually like the sun and are pretty tough plants, even when the japanese beetles attack them.These flowers easily grow wild or can be cultivated. They are a favorite of mine because they don't require special care. A word to the wise; they spread their seeds like mad, so if you don't want your Rose of Sharon planting itself just anywhere, cut off the seed pods before they drop to the ground, open up and set seed. I have a pure white, very old Rose of Sharon plant ("Diana") out back on my hill and somehow, a purpleish pink Rose of Sharon ("Minerva") ended up right in front of the pure white one. I was quite charmed by it and I am going to leave it to grow as it wishes (within reason!).

The plant gods smiled on me (I think) because I saved a fairly newborn baby bunny rabbit the week before. Guess where I put him? Right where the "Minerva" hibiscus started to bloom. No good deed goes unrewarded! Rose of Sharon hibiscus are hardy to zone 5 (they do well in zones 5 to 9), and the more tropical species need frost free winters. These plants are basically trouble free and are happy to bloom year after year. An important plus for this shrub is that they are drought tolerant once they are established. Be forewarned, though, the Japanese beetles love them to shreds!!

My memory of a hibiscus from my visit to a garden
My memory of a hibiscus from my visit to a garden | Source

Interesting Uses for Hibiscus

  • Hibiscus flowers can be used to make tea
  • Hibiscus petals are edible; is sometimes used as an ingredient in chutney
  • Dye is made from the hibiscus petals
  • Used in herbal medicine to control high blood pressure
  • Stops the greying of hair (I wish I knew this years ago!)
  • Very high in vitamin c.
  • Is called the "shoe flower" in Jamaica and is used to polish shoes
  • Used as a lovely hair ornament for people from the beautiful island of Hawaii:)


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