Preserving, conserving, and restoring the native plants and native plant communities of Florida.



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Friday, July 23, 2010

An Appreciation of Scarlet Hibiscus

Hibiscus coccineus is native to Florida's wet places throughout the state. It's a tall herbaceous perennial and dies back to the ground in late fall after its leaves turn a gorgeous pale yellow and fall off. I have purchased several specimens at native plant gatherings and garden fests. They've all done well at the edge of our good-sized pond and have come back larger and with more stalks each year.
When I was doing garden fests this spring to sell my book, I'd look for yet another scarlet hibiscus to buy to decorate my vendor's table. Without exception, people stopped to ask about it. Most of the questions sounded something like this, "Is that a legal plant there little darlin'? People wondered about its leaf shape, which resembles marijuana leaves. I always had my Gil Nelson book, "Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants" available with a bookmark in this hibiscus page with its magnificent red flowers, there's no mistaking it for that other weed. I even bought a white variety at the St. Augustine show.

Most folks are more aware of the tropical hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis) that is widely sold in big box stores and is often planted by landscape contractors. I had several that came with the house, and while they have died back to the ground during some winters, this year's particularly cold weather, killed three of them, but the biggest one has finally started to grow back and is now (at the end of July) about a foot tall. I doubt whether it will flower at all this year. Yes, the flowers are beautiful, but this photo was shot in the middle of December. It had made no preparation for winter, like the grasshopper in the old Aesop's fable of the grasshopper and the ant. The native hibiscus plants are like the ant because they prepare for winter by losing their leaves and cutting off nutrients to the stems that die back to the ground as the days grow short.

Yet another reason to add more natives to your landscape--they know what to do as the seasons change from hot to cold or wet to dry.

Ginny Stibolt

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