Thursday, November 18, 2010
Scarlet Hibiscus - Hibiscus coccineus
Florida is home to a number of native hibiscus, but none are more spectacular than scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). This deciduous perennial occurs in wet-soil habitats, along stream edges and marshes, throughout most of Florida and the Southeast.
Scarlet hibiscus dies back to the ground each winter and emerges in early spring. Its very stout, semi-woody stems quickly reach their mature height of 6-8 feet by summer. Mature specimens produce additional stems each year; eventually as many as half a dozen or more. These robust stems are purplish green in color and numerous deeply 5-lobed leaves occur along their length. To the casual glance, the leaves look much like marijuana and I have heard numerous stories over the years of folks being reported to authorities by concerned neighbors... They are easy to tell apart, however, even when the flowers are absent.
The flowers are what makes this plant so incredible. Each is a deep scarlet red, saucer shaped, and 8-12 inches across. Although each bloom is open for only 1 day, large numbers are produced and mature specimens may remain in bloom for about a month. The flowers are visited by all kinds of pollinators, including hummingbirds.
Scarlet hibiscus has tolerance for short-term drought, but it will die if not provided wet conditions for much of the year. Because of this, it is not a good candidate for typical home landscape conditions, but an ideal one for shallow ponds and water features. We have kept ours in pots and placed them in our backyard pond in water about 12 inches deep with great success. They quickly outgrow pots, however, and this approach requires you to divide the plants every couple of years and repot them. Where this plant works best is in shallow water edges or wet marshes in mostly sunny locations. In an expansive landscape setting, patches of this plant in bloom are breathtaking.
Scarlet hibiscus is grown and sold by a large number of commercial sources and should be relatively easy to locate. Once established, it often spreads easily by increasing the number of stems and by seed. If you have a water feature and enough room, this is one plant you will definitely treasure.