Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hibiscus mutabilis

The plant above may actually be Hibiscus indicus var. 
integrilobus. It has flowers that do not change color.
Hibiscus mutabilis | Confederate Rose, Cotton Rose, 木芙蓉 (Mu Fu Rong), 日語 (Suifuyou), 韓語 (Buyong)

Hibiscus mutabilis is an evergreen shrub or small tree originally from China. Due to its common name in the US —Confederate Rose, some Americans mistakenly believe this attractive Hibiscus to be a native. It was once very common throughout the southern US (The Confederate States of the Civil War era), where it thrives on the gulf coast.

In warmer climates, Hibiscus mutabilis becomes a small tree (up to 4m) with a woody trunk, but in colder climates tends to grow as a multi-trunked perennial shrub. The flowers are either single or double to about 12cm in diameter, typically blooming from summer through fall. One of the defining characteristics of this species (as implied by the latin name mutabilis: changeable) is that upon opening, the flowers are white or pink but gradually change to a dark pink color by evening. In fact, varying shades of flower color can commonly be seen at one time on the same plant.

Hibiscus mutabilis and other closely related Asian Hibiscus species belong to section Venusti. It is reported that hybrids have been produced between the Hibiscus mutabilis and all the species of section Muenchhusia (a group of closely related, hardy, perennial Hibiscus species native to North America), using Hibiscus mutabilis as the seed parent.

Section Venusti: —a group of a half a dozen (or more) species of shrubby Hibiscus from east Asia. The recognized species are: Hibiscus indicus, Hibiscus labordei, Hibiscus leviseminus, Hibiscus makinoi, Hibiscus mutabilis and Hibiscus taiwanensis. Unfortunately, there is limited information available on most of these species, so the defining characteristics are not always clear. Moreover, there is a question as to whether they are specifically distinct enough to warrant species status. With further study, it may become apparent that some of these species would be more accurately placed as subspecies of Hibiscus mutabilis. Hibiscus taiwanensis is similar to Hibiscus mutabilis but has a denser, more compact habit, and single white flowers with a darker (pink) center blotch. The photo above may actually be Hibiscus indicus var. integrilobus. If you can verify ID please contact me. The plant in the photo has flowers that do not change color.

Historical Reference: Native of the East Indies, China, and Japan. Introduced by Lord Portland in 1690. It had however been cultivated before 1632 at Rome by Father Ferrari, the Jesuit who wrote the treatise " De Cultural Florum;" the seed having been sent him by some monks of his own order, as he says, from the West Indies, where, though not aboriginal, it is much cultivated for the beauty of the flowers, which are usually seen in the double or full state, as with us in our hothouses. We know of no representation of the species in the single-flowered state in any of our popular works, and have been induced to publish the present figure for that reason. On the first appearance of the plant in the gardens of Europe, it attracted much attention by the curious transitions of a corolla, opening in the morning from green to white, about noon beginning to redden, in the evening deepening to a full crimson, then quickly fading.

Ferrari, who has allotted several fine engravings and many pages of description to its illustration, likens the leaves to those of the Vine for size, to the Fig-tree for hue and surface, to the Ivy for the angular incisure of the circumference. It should be observed, that when he says the seeds came from the West Indies, he mentions its appellation as being Fuyo, which is its vernacular one in its native Japan.

   The Botanical register
   By Sydenham Teast Edwards, John Lindley,
   Published by Ridgway, 1821