Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hibiscus heterophyllus

 Hibiscus heterophyllus | Native Rosella, Sorrel Tree, Various-Leaved Hibiscus
Photo courtesy of Colleen Keena

Hibiscus heterophyllus is found in open Australian forests from the south coast of New South Wales to northeast Queensland. It is a medium to large shrub, 3-6m high. The large 15cm flowers last only 1-2 days but new flowers continue to bloom over a long period, generally from spring through to summer. The flowers may be white, pink or yellow with a deep red center, followed by hairy seed capsules, which can cause skin irritation ―exercise caution when handling! In northern Queensland plants tend to be yellow flowered and begin blooming in June, while further south they tend to be white flowered and begin in December. The flower buds can be made into jam and other parts of the plant have been used by Aboriginal people as a food source. For more information, see this excerpt on Australian Bushfoods: Native Rosella

Historical Information: Hibiscus heterophyllus was recorded in the Brisbane area in 1824 by Allan Cunningham, in 1828 by Charles Fraser and again in 1844 by Ludwig Leichhardt. Describing the vegetation along the Brisbane River, Cunningham noted that Hibiscus heterophyllus was very frequent on the immediate bank "clothed with a profusion" of flowers.

Historical Reference: Hibiscus heterophyllus — The Various-Leaved Hibiscus. Synonyme - Hibiscus grandifloras. Specific Character - Stem shrubby, prickly. Leaves lanceolate, for the most part three-lobed, with prickly scrratures. Description —This very beautiful plant is a native of New Holland, and requires a greenhouse in this country. In its native country it forms a large-sized shrub, and the natives make its bark into cordage. In England it grows best in a conservatory, where it is extremely ornamental, not only for its flowers, but for its leaves, which vary exceedingly. The only drawback to its cultivation is, that its flowers last a very short time, falling almost as soon as they have expanded.

   Ladies' Flower-garden of Ornamental Greenouse Plants
   By Jane Loundon
   Published by William Smith, 1848

Historical Reference: Charles Fraser traveled upstream on the Brisbane river in July 1828. Fraser's journal notes: "Following the course of the river towards the termination of Oxley's Range, the banks, which are comparatively divested of thickets, become more open and picturesque, and the nearer the Bremer is approached, the clearer is the country and the more precipitous the banks. These are interspersed with excellent Gum Trees, (Eucalypti), occasional patches of Currijong (Brachychiton), and Natives' Cordage Tree, (Hibiscus heterophyllus) which again are overhung with a new and beautiful kind of Passion Flower.

   Journal of a two months' residence on the banks of the Rivers Brisbane and Logan.
   By Charles Fraser, Colonial Botanist, July 1828