This perennial shrub with its striking, large, lemon-yellow flowers and velvety leaves is perfect as an informal border or as a centrepiece in a small garden.
Hibiscus calyphyllus is a dense, perennial, rounded shrub; up to 3 m high; the leaves are large, up to 50 mm in diameter, light green, soft and velvety; the flowers are lemon-yellow, large, up to 100 mm in diameter, with a deep red to blackish centre; the fruit is a papery capsule that splits open to reveal hairy to hairless seeds. It is fairly fast growing and will flower repeatedly, the flowers lasting for a reasonable amount of time. Flowering time: all year round, but mainly from January to April.
Distribution and habitat
The natural habitat of Hibiscus calyphyllus is open bush, thickets and forests, often also found along rivers. It is relatively frost tolerant, requires a moderate amount of water and prefers warm to cooler areas. Natural distribution stretches from the Eastern Cape in South Africa to tropical East Africa and Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands. The plant has also been seen growing in the following regions in the USA : Lafayette, Tennessee ; Austin, Bryan, and San Antonio in Texas. It is also said to have naturalized in Hawaii.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Hibiscus is derived from the Greek word for marshmallow.
Hibiscus, also known as rosemallow, is a large genus of about 200-220 species belonging to the Malvaceae family, which includes members such as cocoa, cotton, okra, baobab and durian. It is native to warm temperate, subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world.
About 59 species of Hibiscus occur in South Africa. They range from shrubs and trees to highly aromatic herbs. Although many Hibiscus species worldwide are popular garden plants, most of those grown in gardens are not indigenous to South Africa. The popular Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and its hybrids which can be seen in many South African gardens, actually originates in China.
The pollen in the large flowers attracts insect pollinators such as butterflies, which in turn will lure insectivorous birds such as barbets, robins and flycatchers to the garden.
Certain species of moth and butterfly larvae are known to feed on various Hibiscus species. This includes the Arrow Sphinx moth ( Lophostethus dumolinii) and Koppie Charaxes (Charaxes jasius saturnus) butterfly.
Uses and cultural aspects
In addition to being a popular garden subject, Hibiscus calyphyllus is apparently also a source of food in the Okavango Delta, where the flowers are cooked and eaten when there is a shortage of food.
Hibiscus species across the world are used for many things ranging from ornamental garden plants to paper-making ( Hibiscus cannabinus ). In the Caribbean, Hibiscus sabdariffa is used to produce herbal teas, jams and is also eaten as a vegetable. In the Hindu religion, Hibiscus plays a significant role as an offering to the Goddess Kali and Lord Ganesha.
Growing Hibiscus calyphyllus
Hibiscus calyphyllus can be planted in groups as an informal border, using In this case plant 3-5 plants together, or one to two plants can be used as a focus point in a small garden. It can also be used as a container plant providing that a large container is used. It should be planted in full sun but can stand light shade under a tree or on a patio. It needs a moderate amount of water on a regular basis.
Although Hibiscus calyphyllus prefers moist, hot summers, it is semi-frost resistant. In a cold, frosty garden, however, a warmer, sheltered spot in the garden is preferable and will produce better results. It is a relatively fast-growing plant, providing that it is planted in fertile, rich and well-drained soil. Enrich the soil with a considerable amount of compost and organic material. The soil pH should range from mildly acidic (6.1 to 6.5) to neutral (6.6 to 7.5). Prune the shrub towards the end of summer.
This plant can be propagated by way of herbaceous stem cuttings or from seed, which should be sown directly after the last cold period. Allow the seedheads to dry on the plants, then remove them and collect the seed.
References and further reading
Lou-Nita Le Roux
Lowveld National Botanical Garden