Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hibiscus schizopetalus

Hibiscus schizopetalus | Coral Hibiscus, Fringed Hibiscus, Japanese Lantern, Skeleton Hibiscus, 吊灯芙桑 , Diao Deng Fu Sang

This is an ornate, double flowered Hibiscus with uniquely shaped flowers. Although it is not native to Japan, its pendulous flowers hang from the branches reminiscent of Japanese lanterns, hence it's common name. It grows as a woody, evergreen shrub to 2m or more, with upright-arching stems. The flowers bloom on long pedicels, blooming best with heat and humidity. The name schizopetalus is derived from the Latin: schizo means split and petalus means petal —in reference to the divided petals of each flower.

This plant was formerly known as H. rosa-sinensis var. schizopetalus. Some authorities consider H. schizopetalus a species; others believe it to be a variety of H. rosa-sinensis. Originally thought to be native to east Africa: Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania —now botanists are not sure —it is found in so many places in the tropics and subtropics that no one knows for sure where this plant originated.

Historical Reference: This singular and beautiful plant has attracted much attention, on account both of its horticultural and botanical interest; differing as it does from all other species in the remarkable character of its petals, and yet presenting so many points of resemblance to a world-wide garden favourite whose native country is unknown (the Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis), as to have suggested its specific identity with that plant. The differences, however, between this and H. Rosa Sinensis are a great deal too many and too important to render the idea of this being a sport or variety of that plant tenable. They are, firstly, the petals, which, however, might have originated as a sport; then the pendulous flower, the suppression of the epicalyx, the longer tubular calyx with obtuse lobes; above all, the long fruit with small smooth seeds. I have examined specimens of H. Rosa Sinensis from thirty different localities, and found none approaching R. schizopetalus in any of the above characters. Too much importance should not be attributed to the supposition that the native country of H. Rosa Sinensis is not well known; Loureireiro states that it is indigenous in both China and Cochinchina, and it has certainly been for long cultivated in China, and it occurs in so many of the Pacific Islands as to render it very probable that it is a native of the Pacific; on the other hand, its two nearest allies, the present plant and Hibiscus lililflorus, being natives, the one of East Africa, and the other of the Mascarene Islands, suggests the probability of Africa being the parent country of Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis.

For the discovery of this fine plant we are indebted to our indefatigable correspondent, Dr. Kirk, H.B.M. Consul at Zanzibar, who found it first in 1874 on the coast hills at Mombasa, in lat. 4° S.; in 1877 at Kilwa, in 7° 40' S.; and, lastly, at Lindi, in 10° S. It grows both in dry rocky slopes and in damp mountain glens, in dense shade, amongst Bignonias, Balsams, and Ferns.

   Curtis's botanical magazine
   Published by Reeve Brothers, 1880