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What Is Hibiscus Mutabilis?

By Jerry Morrison
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Hibiscus mutabilis is an ornamental shrub that is native to China and East Asia. In climates that have hot summers and warm winters, the plant can grow to heights of 12-15 feet (3.7-4.6 m) with a ligneous trunk. More temperate climates commonly produce a multi-trunk shrub 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 m) in height. Hibiscus mutabilis is noted for the size of its blossoms, some approaching 6 inches (15.2 cm) in diameter. Other names for the plant are the Confederate rose, the cotton rosemallow and the changeable rose.

In most climates, the plant will offer continuous blooming from summer through early autumn. Flowers of the hibiscus mutabilis can appear singly or in doubles and generally are cup-shaped. The blossoms open white and change color to deep pink and finally magenta over a one- to three-day period. This process allows for a single bush to display flowers of three varying colors simultaneously.

The bright green leaves of hibiscus mutabilis are 5-7 inches (12.7-17.8 cm) in length with prominent veins. Its deeply lobed foliage has a course texture, being fuzzy on the underside. The leaves are displayed on long, slender stalks arranged alternately along the branches. Outside of the tropics, the plant leafs out rapidly in early to mid-summer and drops its leaves in winter.

Little or no pruning is required, and the plant will naturally grow into a typically oval shape about 10 feet (3.1 m) at its widest spread. Hibiscus mutabilis prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade well. The plant is very soil-tolerant as long as there is good drainage. In rich, well-drained earth, the shrub can be remarkably drought-resistant. This hibiscus is particularly susceptible to damage from whiteflies, aphids and other garden pests.

Propagation is usually by cuttings rooted in either soil or water. This can be done at any time, but the best results have been noted from cuttings taken in the early spring. Growing the plant from seed is generally successful, though care must be taken to begin cultivation early in the season. Adequate time must be allowed for development before winter weather sets in. This would not be a consideration in tropical climates, where the plant is essentially evergreen.

In landscaping, hibiscus mutabilis is often used as a standalone specimen because of its size and impressive blossoms. The shrub would make an attractive display, giving shade to selected ground cover. Grouping it with other plants to form a living wall or privacy screen is another very viable option.

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