The hibiscus genus includes several dozen species, including shrubs, annual plants, perennial herbs and even small trees; most of the hibiscus species originate in Asia, but dinners also come from North America, Africa and Europe. In Italy, in our gardens, there are only a few species, but their beauty has led us to produce numerous hybrids. While in Italy it is purely an ornamental plant, in Africa and Asia, hibiscus has various uses; the flowers of this plant are edible, and are used in salads, but also as a natural dye. The foliage of some species is also used, usually boiled or steamed.
The use of hibiscus sabdariffa flowers in the preparation of infusions is very well known, we all know karkadi, which is also readily available in Italian stores: it is prepared with the dried flowers of this variety of hibiscus of African origin, and it is for this purpose used all over the world, especially in Africa (karkadi in the Mediterranean area), in Asia (gudhal in India) and in South America (gongura, in Brazil). Other hibiscus species are cultivated for other purposes, for example Hibiscus cannabinus is an annual or biennial, herbaceous species, which produces long thin stems, similar to bamboo canes, which in a single growing season can reach three meters in height; from these rods fibers are obtained which can be used to produce paper or fabrics.
Species widespread in Italy
Species widespread in ItalyHibiscus rosa-sinensis
It is also commonly called the evergreen hibiscus, because its large leaves with a wavy edge, shiny and dark, persist on the shrub, and fall only in case of extreme drought during the winter months. In fact, in Italian nurseries, rather than specimens belonging to the species, we find some hybrid varieties, with large flowers with surprisingly intense colors; the evergreen hibiscus flowers are huge, trumpet-shaped, and are produced by a fairly messy shrub, which generally does not exceed 80 cm in height. The thin and well-branched stems are dark, almost black, and stand out among the foliage. The flowers are blooming and wilting in one day, and generally they are fragrance-free; however, a single plant can produce dozens of flowers, with a flowering that lasts for many weeks, from late spring to autumn.
They are quite demanding plants, which need to be planted in a bright place, possibly with a few hours of direct sunlight every day. They prefer a fresh, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. They are often grown in pots, as they can fear the very intense winter cold; however, hybrid varieties are very resistant to cold, which can withstand winter temperatures below -5 ° C.
In areas with cold winters, the evergreen hibiscus is kept indoors for the entire period in which the minimum temperatures are below 10 ° C; it would be preferable to avoid keeping these plants in the apartment, and place them in a slightly heated stairwell, or on a terrace, in the sun, in a protected place. At the end of autumn, to favor a more compact development of the shrub, the production of many lateral branches is pruned vigorously enough, in order to stimulate the following spring.
The hibiscus rosa-sinensis flowers are available in the nursery in all shades, from pure white to pink, from yellow to blood red; hybrids have particularly intense colors and often very large flowers.