Friday, June 30, 2023

Halberd-leaved Hibiscus - Hibiscus laevis

Halberd-leaved hibiscus (Hibiscus laevis) is yet another perennial native Florida hisbicus species common to wet soils. This one is rather uncommon here; native to only 10 counties in the Florida Panhandle.  It is extremely widespread elsewhere, however, and occurs throughout the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. and in Ontario as well. As would be expected, it dies back to the ground each winter and reemerges in spring.  

Like most of our native hibiscus, halberd-leaved hibiscus eventually attains a mature height of about 6 feet in early summer.  It has a straight stout main stem  and numerous small side branches.  The leaves alternate on the stem and are distinctive in shape - as evidenced by the last photo above.  As the common name signifies, they are halberd-shaped -  a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 13th-16th centuries. The halberd consists of a specially shaped axe blade not too different than the blade of these leaves.

The flowers are produced at the axils of the leaves beginning near the top of the stem. Multiple blooms are produced singly or a few at a time during the early to late summer as the plant reaches its final height.  They remain open only for a day.  Flower color can be quite variable; from white (very similar to H. moscheutos) to a deep rosy pink (not unlike H. grandiflorus) but always with a bright crimson-colored center.  The flowers above are between those two extremes. Each flower is about 3 inches across.

Halberd-leaved hibiscus, like other members of this genus, attract the attention of a wide variety of pollinators. Hibiscus as a genus are hosts for several moths, including the Io.  Although many of our native hibiscus are widely propagated and sold by native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, this species has been ignored to date. Hopefully, this will change and this beautiful species will become more available to native plant gardeners.  I have been growing this now for 2 years at Hawthorn Hill and hope to continue its propagation through the years to come.

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