Wildflower Tales-Hardy Hibiscus


Life is the flower for which love is the honey ~Victor Hugo


One of the most beautiful native plants that blooms in later summer looks like it belongs on a tropical island.  You can’t miss its huge blooms when they finally unfurl in the garden.  Of course I am talking about Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow.  I call it Hardy Hibiscus.  It is part of the Malvaceae or Mallow Family.  It has many colorful names:  Crimsoneyed rosemallow, Marshmallow hibiscus, swamp rose-mallow or eastern rosemallow.

As summer heats up, the new green shoots of my hardy hibiscus begin to break dormancy, and quickly put on growth.  Before long, I am watchingIMG_7786 huge exotic looking 6-8 inch flowers bursting out all over the the 4-6 foot stems and massive leaves.  It is a perfect plant for those persistently moist sunny spots like my rain garden areas especially where the soil is sandy or amended.  Which makes perfect sense since this flower is native to marshy areas.

Hibiscus moscheutos has been cultivated to create a variety of many wonderful flowers.  Above is ‘Kopper King’ one of my favorite cultivars for ist gorgeous large flowers and burgundy foliage.  In the wild you might run across white, pink or red flowers with a deep maroon eye.  But they are all beautiful, and a favorite in my wildlife garden.  I am profiling this gorgeous native as I link in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme.



Growing Conditions

Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheustos) grows from zone 5 to 10 from a single crown like a shrub.   The gray-green, heart shaped leaves give way to flowers that have a long  yellow colored central stamen with five round stigmas at the tip.   The flowers last only a couple of days, but there are so many flowers that open in succession that you don’t mind their quick exit.

IMG_8141They say it is best to deadhead the flowers to maintain plant appearance, but I let it go as I love the look of the spent flowers. It is also useful to mulch this plant to keep it from drying out.  In autumn, cut back the stems to approximately 3-4″.

Hardy hibiscus has no serious insect or disease problems. It is  susceptible to leaf spot, blight and rust if not given lots of room to grow. Japanese beetles, whiteflies and aphids can also be an issue especially Japanese beetles which can severely damage foliage if left unchecked. You do not need to stake this plant if it is grown in the ideal environment.

Hardy hibiscus can be grown from seed, crown divisions during winter, and hard-wood cuttings taken in mid summer.  I hope to take some divisions and cuttings to grow more of these flowers.



Where Are They Found

This beautiful flower is found along edges of salt marshes, stream banks and wetlands.  You will also find it in swampy forests and wet IMG_8154meadows.

This U.S. native grows from the eastern United States, just North of Florida and east of Mississippi River.  It is also found in Ontario Canada.

In Canada this plant is listed as a species of special concern.




Benefits to Wildlife

IMG_8291Hardy Hibiscus is a preferred pollen source for native bees, and a great nectar source for hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators.

Tall stems are important for over-wintering insects.  Birds will use the shredded previous year’s stems as nesting material. Deer tend to leave this plant alone.




Folklore and Tales

Hibiscus is the Greek name for Mallow. The large Mallow family includes trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials such as hollyhocks, okra and DSCN1744 cotton.

In colonial times, the root of the rose mallow was used to make  the first “marshmallow”.  But this “marshmallow” was used as medicine to help soothe sore throats.  Of course eventually “marshmallow” became a sweet treat from a different plant.

The Shinnecock tribe used Hibiscus moscheustos as a urinary aid by making an infusion of dried stalks.  Some even use it in a tea.

In the Language of Flowers, Hibiscus (Mallow) means delicate beauty or sweet disposition.  And since ancient times mallow leaves were used as a plea for forgiveness.


How can you not forgive someone who gives you this stunning flower.



“I must have flowers, always, and always.” Claude Monet


Check out other posts in the series, Wildflower Tale:

September:  Twinleaf

August-Anise Hyssop

July-Joe Pye



April-Shooting Stars

March-Common Yarrow


January-Virginia Bluebell


Next up on the blog:  Monday is time for another garden review in my Gardens Eye Journal post wrapping up October.

I enjoyed doing a guest post over at Vision and Verb.  I hope you will visit this wonderful website of women writers.

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.  Tuesday brings my next post.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

79 Replies to “Wildflower Tales-Hardy Hibiscus”

  1. This is a great summer bloomer! the blooms are very impressive but I too love the spent blooms when they hang looking like closed drapes. The past two years mine has been used as a host plant for the hibiscus saw fly. The larvae ate almost all the leaves. The plant bounced back growing new foliage.

    1. Hi Karin, sorry Donna for butting in here. I just would love to know what is the hibiscus saw fly for, as it looks like you are letting them grow at the expense of hibiscus. Is it a beneficial insect? Thanks.

      1. Hi Andrea! Most gardeners probably wouldn’t consider the saw fly larvae beneficial but since I garden for wildlife I try to let nature balance itself in the garden with minimal intervention from me. I was leaving the larvae as a food source for birds but they didn’t seem interested. I later learned that they have a bad taste and birds don’t really like them. The larvae did eat most of the leaves to a skeleton. I started to spray them with a homemade solution and since the larvae are soft they are easy to kill but this year it was a little too late. The plant did start to grow new leaves later in the season. I have experienced other types of saw flies too (dog wood saw fly) and they don’t seem to harm the plants to the point of killing them they just eat all the leaves. Thanks for asking.

        1. Thanks Karin. Fabulous answer and helpful to me as well if I see any of the sawfly as I tend to leave things alone too. I’ll know to ask you for your homemade solution if I need one.

  2. Oh, Donna, I’ve seen this flower, but didn’t know it was a wildflower. So pretty. I love it in pink … and I like its meaning, too … sweet disposition. 🙂

  3. I just started growing this plant this year. Mine is called ‘Heartthrob’. I did not realize it was a native plant or that it liked moisture. And I thought a different plant, Althea officinalis, was used to make the original marshmallows. Who knows? Maybe they both were!

    1. Kathy what a gorgeous color for a bloom in ‘Heartthrob’. I wasn’t sure about the marshmallow as the reference I was using implied at least the colonists used hardy hibiscus for this purpose. But maybe they drew an inference to the confection. Althea officinalis has a long history of being used to make the confection.

  4. I have often thought that I needed to add this flower to my garden. Now I definitely think so! So pretty. They are gorgeous, but that first photo is fabulous. I had no idea these were a wildflower and native to the eastern US. Great info!

    1. It would look amazing in your garden Holley. There are some that prefer more heat and dry weather than this particular one. Hibiscus coulteri is one that is native to drier areas of TX.

      But I am sure you will choose just the right one for your garden.

  5. As a few others have said, I also didn’t know this was a wild flower. It’s a really charming plant. I wonder if I could grow it “wild” in shady areas. We usually get plenty of moisture. I”d have to let it find it’s way around English Ivy…wonder if it’s hardy enough for that.

    1. If you give it some room to stretch its roots to start it should be OK although it will not be as big or prolific growing in more than part shade. Worth a try to find a spot Susie.

  6. We have a red hibiscus bush in our garden that I just trimmed back. It had gotten so big that it was nearly taking over! It must love our tropical conditions here. This is our second year of having it, so I hope trimming it back this late in the year will not hurt it for next year.

  7. This is one I have not tried. Looks like it would be a good native substitute for hollyhock. Does it tend to suffer from rust?

    1. Jason I have never had rust even with plants that are a bit crowded and in swampy areas. Now my holly hocks always have rust no matter what I do.

  8. Donna, I enjoyed your post today. Have seen Hibiscus around town but never tried to grow it. Now with your recommendation I’ll have to add it to my list of plants to add.

    1. You will love it. The hardy hibiscus creates a great shrub. Here it dies to the ground and comes back just as big the next year.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  9. How interesting! I didn’t know that okra and cotton are in the same family as hibiscus, but now I can see the resemblance. We usually see the tropical hibiscus for sale in our garden centers, although they need winter protection here. I think your hardy hibiscus are equally beautiful.

    1. I thought the same but once you see okra and hardy hibiscus bloom you can easily see the resemblance.

      The tropical hibiscus are also not hardy here, Dorothy, which is why I love this wildflower. Just as gorgeous and big blooms come back every year to delight.

  10. I know several types of mallow, but have not tried growing this hardy one. (Too dry in my garden!) A lovely post about this pretty plant – really beautiful photos!

  11. Interesting post, Donna. We have a pure white (no red eye) hardy hibiscus. We also have a red one that has never thrived. The red one only gets about one foot tall. I think it needs to be moved as it is competing for space with other plants. The J. Beetles eat holes in the flowers here…they are quite the pests!!!

    1. I have had to trap J beetles to keep mine looking nice. Yes the hardy hibiscus does not like too much competition. I bet that white one is gorgeous Beth.

  12. There are two huge ones in my garden and they come up reliably each summer. People should not assume they are dead in spring, even though they look that way later than almost all the other garden plants. As always, you have much information about the plant. Always a fine read.

  13. Kopper King is gorgeous! My parents had a hardy hibiscus growing near their home, and I always admired it. You have presented a very informative post on an old-fashioned favorite!

  14. A great species; there is one for every garden situation. I have the ones that are drought tolerant, smaller flowers than yours but a joy as they often flower in August when little else tolerates the heat.

    1. How lovely Christina. They are just the most incredible flowers in late summer. Mine are now showing off their fall yellow foliage that is golden in the morning light.

  15. Beautiful Donna, thanks for sharing all this fascinating information. The link for I Heart Macro is still open if you’d care to share a beautiful blossom:-)

  16. It’s a beauty, that’s for sure! I remember seeing some amazing ones in Missouri that I posted about last summer. They were blooming in June, so maybe the bloom time varies with the climate and the cultivar? Anyway, I was smitten! They’re also very photogenic, and you’ve captured some lovey shots!

    1. Absolutely Dianne as the Rose of Sharon is a lovely hibiscus too. It is Hibiscus syriacus, and is native to Asia and makes a nice shrub. And what a historical past as you mentioned…it is referred to in the Bible. 🙂

  17. I used to have a dinnerplate type Hibiscus that lasted many years but no longer. Rose of Sharon does well for me and has the pretty red centers with the red veins fanning out that looks so pretty. Hibiscus/Mallows are among my favorite flowers, Okra being one as well, and I grew up on Southern cooking.

    1. Hannah sorry your dinnerplate type Hibiscus did not survive longer, but yes Hibiscus/Mallows are so wonderful and I think underutilized. As a gal who grew up on Italian cooking, I discovered okra by accident and love it…and I love to grow it!

  18. I love hibiscus, your flowers are gorgeous. We are trying keep our hibiscus plant thru the winter in our basement. I hope it survives. They are one of my favorites. Have a happy week!

    1. I have never had luck growing the tropical variety and I hope yours does well Eileen. I think it is why I turned to the hardy native as my luck overwintering any plant is rare.

  19. I tried these in PA with no luck, I think because of lack of sun. This summer I planted some in a public area by the ferry wharf in Maine but now I think it may be too dry. Te flowers are truly amazing so I hope the plants survive.

  20. These are so pretty! A friend gave me three seedlings in June and do you know two bloomed and grew to about 3 feet already? The third one will bloom next year. I had no idea what colors I would get but one is white and the other is pink. I’m hoping for red for the last but whatever is fine. I have some heavy soil so I guess they’ll be happy there with all the moisture.

  21. So much fascinating information, Donna, as always! I tried to grow hibiscus, but it didn’t do well in my garden. I haven’t replaced the one I lost because I felt it was too tropical-looking for my English cottage garden theme. Yours are beautiful, and are making me rethink growing them. P. x

  22. this is a shrub that demands attention – visually speaking and hard to choose between the hues. Agree that the spent blooms retain a papery beauty like old ladies with lovely skins – and as such should not be dead headed – just yet!

    1. Amy I am glad you liked the hibiscus and may rethink them. They deserve to be planted more so they can spread their beauty.

  23. I had a couple of these in my last garden. It was hard to believe that they are native since they are so exotic and tropical looking. The blooms are so stunning! The leaves were always eaten up by some sort of caterpillar, I’m not sure what kind, so I can say wildlife definitely liked it!

    1. I always think they are so exotic as well Indie. I try to keep only the J beetles away but also welcome any other critters.

  24. Thanks for sharing the beauty of this flower. Just what I needed. Chill is in the air in central Oregon (snow coming this weekend) and your post transported me to the tropics. 🙂

  25. SO beautiful, these dramatic blossoms.
    They make me feel warm and sunny
    and I needed that and thank you.
    And now I’m strangely hungry for a marshmallow;)
    Forgiveness is the most beautiful thing I know
    and so I love it more, this generous plant
    with the lovely flowers.
    thanks for the lesson,

    1. So happy these lovely flowers brought you some joy Jennifer. The Kopper King hibiscus was given to me by a very dear special friend and I cherish it.

  26. I love that quote from Claude Monet – I feel the same, even though vegetables often seem more the thing these days. In the case of this flower I adore the combination of delicacy of looks, and toughness of the plant.

    1. It is indeed a very special plant for the very reasons you state. And this flower is a perfect match for the Monet quote.

  27. I love hardy Hibiscus, I used to grow quite a few different ones when I lived in Massachusetts. But they do not like our spring and summer conditions in the PNW. We often have a long, cold wet spring and a cool, dry summer. They’re late risers in the spring anyway, and with our conditions, they just don’t get what they need to thrive. A bummer, cause I love them!

  28. Hi Donna, i agree with you that when this blooms it looks like a tropical landscape. We have lots of hibiscus here both colors of hybrids, species, etc. I didn’t know that there is a species of hibiscus growing in temperate climes, as hardy as yours. They are very beautiful with those pink stripes.

  29. thank you so much for linking in this weekend…I always love to find time to visit those who play along with my little party. It doesn’t seem that I get around often enough…but I do try when I can! we got a HUGE dump of snow here yesterday and I am hating it already after the first few hours!!! I can’t hardly wait for spring to come…It will be so nice to play outside again for a few months!
    Your post today is lovely…I wish I still had flowers outside!
    I shared this post on the Tootsie Time facebook page
    I hope you will link in again every week!

    ¸.•´¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•


    1. Sorry to hear about the snow. There isn’t anything blooming here now after a few hard frosts. But I hope I have a little more time to clean up before the ground freezes.

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