Hooray for Hibiscus

When it comes to the word “Hibiscus” it can cause a hubbub of befuddlement for some understanding the broad descriptive terminology for what is a “Hibiscus?” It is a diverse genus of hundreds of species that are deciduous, perennial or tropical.
You then hear “Rose of Sharon” or “Althea” thrown into the mix and soon the bewilderment. The primary types of “Hibiscus” we enjoy in our yards and gardens are a “woody” hibiscus, an “herbaceous” perennial hibiscus and a “tropical” hibiscus. When they bloom in the heat of summer it’s “hooray for Hibiscus!” Here is a brief tutorial with pictures.

In August the giant dinner plate blooms of herbaceous Hibiscus moscheutos or “Mallow” hibiscus are stunning and a real showstopper. The plants grow to 4 to 5 feet tall and the blooms can be 6 inches to a foot across. They die back to the ground in winter and start slow in spring. But once warm summer temperatures arrive they are off to the races to wow admirers to their impressive blooms.

In July and August the “woody” type of Hibiscus blooms in abundance on trees and shrubs and is known as Hibiscus syriacus. It was given the epithet “syriacus” because it had been collected from gardens in Syria but is native to Asia. People commonly refer to them as “Rose of Sharon” or Althea. Good for late season flowering (July to September) it can get “leggy” as a woody landscape plant so it responds well to pruning.


And last but not least is the “tropical” Hibiscus we put out on our decks and patios or around the poolside in summer. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. The word “tropical” should clue you that we enjoy it outside in summer and have to bring it indoors as a “houseplant” in winter or grow as an annual and replace next year.


Hibiscus confusion?

Hibiscus confusion? Cue the music and let’s meet the contestants….

Our first featured Hibiscus is from and native to the Eastern US….one native tribe in the US used it to cure inflamed bladders and Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello. A shrub like herbaceous perennial and vigorous grower, this Hibiscus is sure to please with dinner plate sized flowers July-September. A very colorful character say hello to Hibiscus Moscheutos.

Hibiscus moscheutos Perennial herbaceous hardy Hibiscus
Hibiscus moscheutos
Perennial herbaceous hardy Hibiscus

Our next featured Hibiscus hails from tropical Asia and China. Not hardy to Michigan winters this hibiscus loves to play in the sun and warm temperatures.

Rosa sinensis....non hardy tropical Hibiscus
Rosa sinensis….non hardy tropical Hibiscus

This plant makes a bold statement when entering a room with stunning flowers….that only last for a day or two. Say hello to Rosa Sinensis.








Our final featured Hibiscus is ubiquitous and all around town. A slow starter once established blooms beautifully in July and August. Woody and requiring discipline, this Hibiscus goes by different names like Althea, Rose of Sharon or Hibiscus making it’s personality complex. Say hello to Hibiscus syriacus.

Hibiscus syriacus also known as Althea or Rose of Sharon
Hibiscus syriacus also known as Althea or Rose of Sharon
Kick in the Plants!

The Rodney Dangerfield of the Landscape

I like to call landscape Althea the Rodney Dangerfield of the landscape. It stands out but just doesn’t get respect. Most people don’t know what plant family it belongs to or what name to call it using the names Althea, Rose of Sharon or Hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus). Althea whiteConfusion abounds with this woody plant being mistaken for herbaceous perennial Hibiscus or tropical non-hardy Hibiscus. Dangerfield said his family was confused too…… “during the Civil War my great uncle fought for the West.” Just like Rodney the woody Hibiscus is a late bloomer. Dangerfield sold aluminum siding until he finally got his break as a comedian in his mid-40’s. Hibiscus syriacus is not a spring bloomer, waiting until August and September to put on a show.Althea Pink No child prodigy here, the plant has difficulty leafing out in the month of May producing foliage well behind emergence of other woody plants. Often relegated to the border as an unruly hedge row, there is something to be said for the performance of this plant in August when others can wither in the heat. The key is to prune the plant hard in spring to keep it in line and to get bigger flowers in August. Just like Dangerfield who had a wife constantly keeping him in line…….”my wife had me join a bridge club, next Tuesday I jump off”, with smart spring pruning you can enjoy this colorful character in your landscape.