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Also known as swamp rose mallow, hardy hibiscus is a shrubby, rounded perennial wildflower with exotic flowers that can grow to the size of your head. Numerous sturdy, unbranched stems grow 3-7’ tall, with no staking required. As a cold-hardy perennial wetland plant, it’s easily grown in average garden conditions, moist-to-wet soils, and even sand or clay. It will grow in part shade, but full sun and good air circulation provide better flowers and more-vigorous growth. Although slow to emerge in spring, it grows rapidly and displays a long parade of short-lived flowers from July through September. At peak bloom, a large plant can produce over 20 flowers per day. They are not reported to be especially fragrant, although moscheutos means “musk scented.” The white or bright pink flowers with crimson centers are pollinated by native long-tongued bees, including the rose mallow bee, which is entirely dependent on plants in the Malvacaea and Convulvaceae families for nectar and pollen. The flowers also provide nectar to ruby throated hummingbirds and a variety of butterflies and other insects.


In spring, cut back any remaining stems 6” from the ground before new growth appears. Pinch back emerging shoots when they reach 8” and again at 12” if bushier plants are desired. Deadheading individual flowers to maintain plant appearance is optional. Keep the soil moist to avoid leaf scorch and disease, and for vigorous growth, add compost around the base once a year. 


Native habitats include marshes and swamps, river banks, moist meadows and woods, and floodplains. It’s useful in low spots or wet areas, rain gardens, along streams or ponds, as temporary summer screens or hedges, or as a specimen plant. It can also be grown in a large container.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 3-7’ tall and 2-4’ wide.


Prefers full sun but adapts to light shade.


Prefers moist, rich soils but adapts to average soils that are regularly watered.


Flowers consist of five overlapping white-to-pink petals with reddish-purple bases that form a central “eye,” from which a tubular column of yellow stamens protrudes, surrounding a long, white style.


Fruits in the form of oval, beaked seed capsules appear July to October. They are able to float in water for dispersal.


Heart- or ovate-shaped leaves with serrated margins are green above and white beneath. Leaves are either lobeless or have 3-5 shallow lobes.


Wildlife Value:

Wild hibiscus is a host plant to 24 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including gray hairstreak (feeds on developing seeds) and painted lady butterflies, Io and spiny oak-slug moths, and the delightfully named "exposed bird-dropping" moth.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

In traditional medicine, a poultice of the leaves and roots provided a soothing effect when used on breast tumors and for gastrointestinal, lung, and bladder problems.


The young leaves and flowers have a mild flavor; try them raw in salads or chopped up and added to soups. The leaves, roots, and shoots are filled with a gooey substance (mallows are relatives to okra) that is used to thicken soups or whipped into meringues.

Hibscus, Hardy, Hibiscus moscheutos

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