by Larry Hodgson

The Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is among the most widely grown houseplants in the world and is no less popular as a flowering shrub for outdoor use in the tropics.

Hibiscus - Photo: Unsplash - Jessica Sloan

And who doesn’t instantly recognize its huge dish-shaped flower that comes in such a wide range of colors?

But this popular plant is not just a pretty face. It also has its share of secrets, including the following:

The Chinese hibiscus is the floral emblem of Haiti and Malaysia.

A hibiscus flower normally lasts only one day, but will remain open for that whole day without needing to be placed in water, making it a great—if short-lived—decoration
Hibiscus buds and flowers are edible, with a lemony taste, and are rich in vitamin C. They can be used in chutneys, soups, salads, curries, jams and jellies. Dried, they are also used in herbal tea.
The white or white and pink variegated foliage of some hibiscus, such as H. rosa-sinensis ‘Cooperi’, is caused by a virus that can be transmitted to other hibiscus plants through grafting. The virus is not considered harmful, but even so, variegated hibiscus bloom much less abundantly than varieties with entirely green leaves.

Rubbed on shoes, hibiscus blooms bring back the natural luster of leather, hence the common name “shoe plant” or “shoeblack plant” in India.

The Chinese hibiscus is used as a pharmaceutical plant in traditional medicine in China and many other Asian countries

In former times, Polynesian women used wear a hibiscus flower in their hair. If they wore the flower to the right, that meant she was looking for a partner. If she was married, she wore the flower on the left.

A hibiscus flower can be used to determine the pH of a liquid. The flower turns dark pink or magenta in an acidic solution and green in an alkaline one.
Colorful hibiscus flowers are often used as a natural dye.

In the Hindu religion, the flower of the hibiscus represents Kali, the goddess of preservation, transformation and destruction. Believers traditionally give hibiscus flowers as an offering.

Larry Hodgson is a freelancer garden communicator living in Quebec City. He writes and speaks in both English and French and is a regular contributor to garden magazines throughout North America. Visit his blog.