What is a Hibiscus?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hibiscus is a plant in the genus Hibiscus. There are a huge number of species in this genus, from dwarf herbaceous shrubs to towering trees, and these plants grow in many regions of the world. The plant with this name is often welcome in the garden because it has very large, showy flowers that come in an array of colors, and it sometimes also has a very delicate, pleasant scent that can be very enjoyable when a large cluster of plants is massed together. Many garden supply stores carry these plants.

Hibiscus flowers have large, bright petals.
Hibiscus flowers have large, bright petals.

Plants in this genus can be divided into tropical and hardy cultivars. Tropical hibiscus are native to the tropics, which means that they need to be grown in very warm climates such as those found in USDA zones 10 and 11. These plants need lots of sun, a fair amount of humidity, and moist soil to thrive. While they can be grown indoors in cooler regions of the world with adequate climate control, they can be difficult to manage for gardeners who do not live in the tropics.

Hibiscus flowers come in a variety of colors, including red.
Hibiscus flowers come in a variety of colors, including red.

Hardy hibiscus can grow all the way up into USDA zone five. They will die back in the winter, especially in cooler climates, but they will return in the spring, especially if the roots are mulched over the winter to protect them from cold. These plants have especially large flowers, and they can be grown in the ground or in pots. People who do not want their hibiscus to die back may want to consider growing them in pots so that they can be moved indoors during the winter.

This genus is so large that it is hard to make generalizations about its member plants. The flowers typically have five petals that are flexed slightly, and they can come in a huge range of colors including bright red, orange, and purple. Some examples include Rose of Sharon, red hibiscus, Chinese hibiscus, and African hibiscus. Garden suppliers that stock these members of the mallow family tend to keep plants suitable for the zone the garden store is located in, and the staff can offer additional advice to customers who are unsure.

Hibiscus can be very finicky plants. They need to be pruned and shaped regularly to remove dead growth and keep them from sprawling, and they also require regular fertilization. In the summer, the soil around the plants should be kept moist, while in the winter, it is advisable to back off on watering and fertilizing to encourage the plant to go slightly dormant so that it will not be damaged if there is a cold snap.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Yellow hibiscus plant is the state flower of Hawaii. The flowers are so large and beautiful I am not surprised that it was chosen as the state flower.

Tho I am sure it was not an easy decision, since Hawaii has so many beautiful flowers.


I have a beautiful red hibiscus bush in my yard. It is doing very well, however lately i have noticed some bugs, probably aphids on the back of some leaves. The insects are not damaging the bush, except i see some yellow leaves here and there. I am trying to get rid of those insects, but so far I was not successful.

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