Perennial Hibiscus are American native plants that are greatly underused in U.S. gardens. Hardy hibiscus love sun, moist soils and reward gardeners with huge flowers that grow up to 10" wide in a variety of bright colors. Some of the perennial hibiscus also have purple foliage...a double threat! Like the more widely known tropical hibiscus, the hardy species produce large flowers in a wide variety of beautiful colors. In fact, some of the hardy hibiscus species produce much larger flowers than their tropical cousins. The famous Tahitian girls with tropical hibiscus flowers behind their ears couldn't manage the hardy species. A hardy hibiscus flower would hide her entire head!
Most garden hibiscus are selections of eastern american native species such as H. coccineus and H. mosheutos. The eastern species and their hybrid offspring prefer full sun and plenty of moisture while the western US species are xeric plants. Many of the eastern Hibiscus will even do well in bog gardens. Hummingbirds really seem to like hibiscus flowers even though the flowers are 10 times larger than the birds. Talk about 'more than a mouthful'! We like to pair the flamboyant hardy hibiscus with other plants that really show themselves off like agapanthus, canna, dahlia, and kniphofia.
Anyone who grows hardy hibiscus in the southern U.S. knows that they have one weakness...Japanese Beetles love to eat the leaves. This is an easily remedied problem...nothing a beetle trap can't cure. If you are the adventerous type, you can try eating the young leaves of your hardy hibiscus. Simply treat them like any other green and boil them with your favorite spices. Although, they are not known to be cold tolerant in the northern United states, some hardy hibiscus species can be grown as far north as Wisconsin. Way up there, they are slow to emerge and often will not be seen before July.