There are a number of Hibiscus species that are native to North Florida. They are fast growing, herbaceous perennials that can reach heights from four to fifteen feet and widths of four to eight feet depending on the species. They’re close relatives to the tropical hibiscus that’s grown in Central and South Florida, but they are much more cold hardy and have larger flowers that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
These native hibiscus are a great way to add color to your yard, even in areas that stay wet and cause problems for so many other perennials. Don’t worry if you do not have such a wet area however. They also do well in average, somewhat dry garden soil, making them a good choice for rain gardens. Plant native hibiscus in full to part sun, and give them some room. They can produce many stems from the caudex or from the ground around it, and as you read in the previous paragraph, native hibiscus can get quite large.
Propagation is by seed, which will require scarification. In their natural setting, the thick-coated, boyant seeds are dispersed by water. High storm tides sometimes carry them for long distances.
Currently, we have three species available in our native wildflower section. They are:
Crimson-eyed Rose Mallow – Hibiscus moscheutos (pronounced hye BISS kus moss KUE tohss) which has a four to five inch wide white or light pink flower with a blood-red center. Crimson-eyed rose mallow is native from Ontario, Wisconsin and New York south to the Gulf of Mexico, extending west to New Mexico. It is common in marshes and wetlands and is salt tolerant.
Pink Swamp Hibiscus - Hibiscus grandiflorus (pronounced hye BISS kus gran de FLOOR us) has beautiful six to eight inch rosy-pink flowers and blooms from late spring to fall. It has rich, fuzzy gray-green foliage on a plant that can grow to fifteen feet in height. It is salt tolerant and can grow in brackish water directly in tidal zones. Don’t be put off by that however. It will also grow in your average garden soil.
Red Swamp Mallow or Scarlet Rose Mallow - Hibiscus coccineus (pronounced hye BIS kus kock SIN ee us) can reach a height of four to eight feet with a three to four foot spread. It has deep red flowers that are five to six inches wide. Unlike crimson-eyed rose mallow and pink swamp hibiscus, red swamp mallow is not salt tolerant. It is however tolerant of a wide variety of soil types and conditions – extended flooding, acidic, sand, loam and clay. The owners of the nursery have had red swamp mallow in their yard for two years. It is four to five feet tall, and Donna says it blooms from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Here’s one last note of interest about red swamp mallow. Half a dozen times or more in the fifteen years I’ve worked here at Native Nurseries, I’ve had customers (with a grin and a twinkle in their eye) point this plant out to me. They’re always male and of a certain age (they were young men in the 60s or 70s). At that point I know I’m about to hear The Story. The Story can vary – especially as to whether it happened to this particular customer, someone he knows or someone he knows who knew someone. It usually involves The Feds, helicopters and mistaken identification (plant identification). You see the foliage of red swamp mallow looks a whole lot like marijuana. It’s an entertaining story, and maybe it even happened somewhere, sometime. Whether it did or not however, red swamp mallow and the other native, hardy hibiscus make great additions to any yard or garden that has the room for them.
At Native Nurseries, we typically stock native hibiscus in 1- and 3-gallon pots. Currently we have red swamp mallow in both and pink swamp hibiscus and crimson-eyed rose mallow in 1-gallon. As always, give us a call to check availability before making a special trip (although we’re always happy to see you). Sorry . . . we do not ship plants.
Some information for this blog post came from the following sources –
http://web126.cc.utexas.edu/collections/printable_QR_main.php?collection=FL_central – photo of pink swamp hibiscus