Hibiscus

September 14, 2022

Located on the northern corner of the building where I work are two large plants that are now in full flower.  I began noticing them last week and have been amazed that the flowers have continued in full bloom and in such large numbers.  Since they were placed on the corner, the flowers provide a stark contrast to the plant’s own dark green leaves, the light olive hedge below, and with the dark stonework and white mortar of the building providing a backdrop.  When I pointed the bushes out to Melissa, she told me this was a hibiscus, and probably the Rose of Sharon variety.

When I looked online, I found the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a species of flowering plant in the mallow family (Malvaceae).  While it is native to Korea, and south-central and southeast China, it is widely introduced elsewhere, including much of Asia.  The name syriacus is given as it was originally collected by Western botanists from gardens in Syria.  Common names include the Rose of Sharon, (especially North America) and rose mallow (United Kingdom).  The name Rose of Sharon for Hibiscus syriacus is derived from the Bible (Song of Solomon 2:1) as these are among the beautiful flowers brought by the groom for his bride, but scholars are unsure which plant the name identifies as other species are called Rose of Sharon.  Hibiscus syriacus is a hardy deciduous shrub reaching 7 to 13 feet (2 to 4 m) in height, bearing large trumpet-shaped flowers with prominent, yellow-tipped white stamens.  The flowers are often pink in color but can range from almost purple to white.  The individual flowers last only a day but the numerous buds produced provide prolific flowers from July through September, usually blooming at night.  As the plant matures the flexible stems are weighted by the abundant flowers and can bend halfway to the ground.

Hibiscus syriacus was indigenous to China and was brought to Japan in the 8th century, then introduced to the Korean Peninsula around the 15th or 16th century. The species was introduced for horticulture as its leaves were brewed for an herbal tea and its flowers eaten.  It was first grown in European gardens as early as the 16th century.  Initially the species was thought to be tender, and care was taken to shelter it during the winter, but by the end of the 17th century it was labeled hardy.  By the 18th century the shrub was common in English gardens and the North American colonies.  Hibiscus syriacus is also known as the Korean rose and is the national flower of South Korea.  The flower’s name in Korean is mugunghwa and its symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung, meaning “eternity” or “inexhaustible abundance”.  Korea is poetically compared to the flower in the South Korean national anthem, it appears in national emblems, and is generally considered by South Koreans to be a traditional symbol of the Korean people and culture.

THOUGHTS:  Hibiscus syriacus is highly tolerant of air pollution, heat, humidity, poor soil, and drought which has allowed the shrub to become naturalized in suburban areas of the US.  Some call it slightly invasive as it readily self-seeds and you will need to remove the seedlings if you do not want additional hibiscus in your landscape.  Like many immigrants (my German ancestors included), the hibiscus has flourished on arrival to America.  Harsh conditions (smog and drought vs. poverty and intolerance) were overcome, and they spread throughout the land.  Immigrants are not an invasion but a strengthening of our national spirit.  Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.

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