Color-changing Hibiscus

I don’t understand why some people think of Latin as a dead language. Gardeners use it every day. It’s the only way we can be sure that we are all talking about the same plant. For example, when your friend tells you that she has planted “Pot of Gold” in her garden, what does she mean? It could be Coreopsis lanceolata, Lantana camara, Alyssum saxatilis or Rudbeckia fulgida. If she admires your “snowball bush” does she mean your Viburnum or your Hydrangea?

The second part of a Latin plant name describes the growing characteristics. ‘Globosa’ means round, ‘nana’ means short, ‘fastigiata’ means skinny and ‘gigantea’ means giant. One of my favorite descriptors in the plant world is ‘mutabilis,’ which means changeable. There are two fabulous plants in the Mary Snoddy garden that carry this term. Rosa mutabilis is a China rose with a single, 5-petal bloom. On the first day a bud opens, the flower color is a soft, pale apricot. Over the next couple of days, it changes from apricot to light pink, then to dark pink before the spent bloom sheds it petals. The plant will show flowers of all colors at the same time.

The plant I want to focus on in this blog is Hibiscus mutabilis, or Confederate Rose. It’s not fair to call Confederate Rose a shrub, because that would lead one to believe it is a smallish plant. NOT! I prefer to think of them as multi-stemmed trees. One specimen in my garden is ten years old. It has grown progressively larger each year, from two feet tall in the first year to twelve feet tall this year.

Confederate Rose dies to the ground at the first hard freeze. I cut all the dead stems off at ground level. In early years, I could do this with a pair of loppers. Now it takes a chainsaw. In my Zone 7b garden, the plant returns each spring. Without knowing it would become a giant, I initially planted it too close to one of our barns. When I tried to dig it up to relocate it a few years later, I found that the root ball was too large and too heavy for the front-end loader on my farm tractor to handle. So…it is going to stay in the original location.

Most Confederate Roses start as white, age to pink and then to red before the bloom falls. My particular plant starts as a pale pink and ages to dark pink then a deep rose before it is spent. The buds resemble cotton buds and the leaves resemble cotton leaves. Both plants are in the Mallow family. The plants prefer full sun and moist soil, but once established they will survive and thrive with no supplemental irrigation. They are autumn bloomers. Ours is just starting to shine, and will undoubtedly still be blooming away when it is cut down by our first freeze.

Confederate Roses will root easily. Ask any gardener for a couple of stem cuttings. It’s best to start with some thicker stems, about ten inches long. Place them in a jar of water that will cover about half the stem length. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight and you should see roots soon. Once the baby roots are an inch long, pot them into soil and keep them in a frost-free area for the first winter.

Take a look at the photo to see one of the mid-pink blooms. Isn’t that a beauty? The second photo shows my plant, just beginning to open up. I’m hoping for a late freeze.