Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rose-mallow - Hibiscus moscheutos

I love rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) for its beautiful simplicity; pure white flowers with a blood-red center.  This species occurs throughout the northern half of Florida and throughout much of the eastern half of the US.  Like many other native hibiscus, it is a wetland plant adapted to seasonally flooded habitats in coastal and interior areas and it requires sunny wet conditions to thrive.
Rose-mallow is a deciduous perennial that dies to the ground each winter.  By late spring to early summer, its multiple semi-woody stalks stand about 4-6 feet in height, clothed with oval-shaped toothed leaves that are slightly silvery from the hairs across its surface. 
Flowering occurs mostly in early summer. The large flowers are saucer shaped and about 8 inches across.  Each is open for only a day, but mature plants can remain in bloom for 3-4 weeks.  Patches of this plant with dozens of bright white flowers with crimson "eyes" are spectacular.  My wife, Alexa, and I came across such stands on our honeymoon trip through the Florida Panhandle and we had to stop each time to admire them.
Rose-mallow needs wet soils to prosper.  We have grown it at Hawthorn Hill on several occasions, but it slowly dies out if not kept wet.  For this reason, I would recommend using it much like scarlet and swamp pink hibiscus - at the edges of ponds and streams or planted in pots in 6-12 inches of water in a home pond.
Despite what I consider to be its great beauty, few commercial sources in Florida have ever propagated rose-mallow.  It is available, but may take some searching to find it.  Several good mail order nurseries may be your best option.  I would not attempt this species much south of its natural range either.

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