Australia's 40 hibiscus species
WHILE most people think of hibiscus as shrubs with a glossy green foliage and saucer-shaped, brightly coloured flowers, there are a number of varieties that bear no family resemblance.
There are more than 300 Hibiscus species that occur mainly in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. But you may not realise that Australia has about 40 native species.
Though these are different, they are all very hardy and quite suitable to our local climate, and are able to be planted during the summer season.
Some of these varieties include Hibiscus insularis, which is a native to Norfolk Island. It is a very bushy shrub growing up to 4 metres high, with light green foliage and small blooms of pale lemon with purple/crimson centres.
Another hibiscus completely unique to Australia is the Hibiscus manihot, is a low-growing herbaceous shrub with large lemon flowers with deep purple centres, appearing along the stem rather than on the ends. Like other native hibiscus, the seed capsules produced after flowering are very hairy, that could irritat some people.
The Abelmoschus moschatus is a low-growing native hibiscus that is found from Brisbane in the south, north along the coastal ranges, to Cape York and the top end of the Northern Territory. The flowers usually appear from summer to autumn, with the most common colour being a deep pink with a maroon centre, but other colours such as white and yellow can also be found. Locally, this plant makes an ideal fill-in for a small gap in your garden.
Another unique native Australian hibiscus is the Alyogyne huegelii, a fast growing shrub, growing to a height of 2-3m and about 1.5m wide. Alyogyne huegelii has a long flowering with beautiful large mauve hibiscus-like flowers that are bird attracting.
The hybrid Alyogyne Melissa Anne also creates a unique floral feature in the garden. Alyogyne Melissa Anne is a fast growing shrub with soft fine foliage with profusion large pink tulip-like flowers during the warmer months of the year. It will grow to a height 2m and about 1.5m wide and is best to regularly prune and shape this shrub to maintain dense foliage.
There is even a unique tree Hibiscus called Lagunaria patersonia. The Lagunaria patersonia or Norfolk Island Hibiscus is a pyramid shaped, bushy tree for most soil types. Masses of small pink bell shaped flowers in appear in late spring. It is beautiful dense tree growing up to 8m high and is suitable for seaside and street planting. The yellow seeds that follow flowering are covered in stiff hairs, which can cause skin irritation.
The Hibiscus Southern Belle is another different variety, being a soft-wooded perennial that has giant blooms of over 30 cm across, in colours ranging from white, through pink, to deep red, and often with a deeper eye at the centre. These plants are very brittle and quite often require staking and protection from the wind.
Hibiscus mutablis, or Rose of Sharon, is another member of the unusual hibiscus group. A native of China, Taiwan and Japan, this semi-deciduous shrub to small tree can grow to six metres. It has large hairy, five to six pointed foliage, and the large double flowers are white upon opening in the morning, and then change colour during the day to pink or red, and it is not uncommon for the bush to be covered with varying shades of each colour.
The last member of this interesting group is Hibiscus sabdariffa, or Rosella. Also a native of tropical Africa, this annual shrub may grow to 2 metres high, with small leaves and reddish-purple stems. The flowers are also quite tiny and are usually light yellow and sometimes diffused with pink. This particular hibiscus is prized more for the fleshy fruit produced after flowering which is used to make rosella jams. It prefers warm sunny positions, well-drained soils and will not tolerate frost.
While these plants do not fit into everybody's image of a traditional hibiscus, they are unique plants and would make an interesting variation in most gardens.