When I hear the term exotic applied to a flower I immediately think of the tropical Hibiscus. Hibiscus plants are native to many countries along the equator from Asia to South America and there are hundreds of different variations of this flower. Hibiscus are so beautiful they are the national flower of many countries; including, South Korea, Malaysia and Haiti, and it is the official state flower of Hawaii. Using them as part of a landscape is only one way that Hibiscus is used around the world. It is used in the making of paper and its petals are steeped and used in hot and cold beverages in the Caribbean as well as Southeast Asia. Dried Hibiscus is considered a delicacy in Mexico; it is used in Chinese and Indian medicine and of course, it is used in Hawaiian leis as well. Few flowers that I know have such worldwide impact and versatility.
Hibiscus is really a shrub or a small tree and I’ve seen it used as a hedge in places such as Florida and Bermuda. Unless you live in USDA garden zones 9 through 11 Hibiscus is grown as an annual flower, but it is possible to bring it indoors and treat it as a houseplant as well. Even in warmer garden zones a cold snap that drops temperatures below freezing can damage the plant, but it will survive and recover. In addition to warmer temperatures Hibiscus require full sun conditions. They will grow in partial shade although they will flower less in shady conditions. Hibiscus can be drought tolerant but will need additional watering during dry spells. The soil should be well drained and kept evenly moist and the leaves should not be watered to avoid spreading diseases. During the growing season it should be fertilized twice a month, and during the fall and winter a monthly feeding is sufficient.
Hibiscus typically grows 3 to 6 feet tall and they are best pruned in the spring to keep them compact. Hibiscus flowers come in many colors; including, white, pink, red, orange and yellow but there are mutli-color varieties as well. Each flower lasts for a few days and their flowering is abundant in the summer and fall. Each year there seem to be more and more new colors introduced and recent years have seen the introduction of dwarf varieties which make excellent plants for containers and houseplants. An added benefit is that Hibiscus is a magnet for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Hibiscus is susceptible to a variety of insect pests including aphids and scale. In addition, hibiscus is susceptible to powdery mildew and other diseases. While being somewhat susceptible to diseases and pests Hibiscus often will continue to flower in spite of these challenges. Finally, I did want to mention that there is a variety of hibiscus which can be grown in much cooler USDA zones. This plant is also known as Rose Mallow, and while the flowers look similar to a tropical hibiscus they prefer much different growing conditions so you want to be sure you differentiate between the two. If you want to bring a piece of the tropics into your home and garden why not try a Hibiscus.