Some call it Texas Star hibiscus, though it’s not native to Texas. Others call it swamp mallow or scarlet rosemallow. By any name, this picturesque perennial hibiscus will be a treasured performer from Louisiana to Florida and north to Virginia.
It is especially well-suited to cottage gardens and tropical spaces and will be a favorite of backyard wildlife enthusiasts.
At the Columbus (Ga.) Botanical Garden, the complex is designed around a late 1800’s farmhouse with many of the original outbuildings. The scarlet rosemallow fits this garden perfectly as nearby we have planted rudbeckias, Joe Pye weed, and other perennials known to be favorites of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Scarlet rosemallow is a cold-tolerant perennial hardy from zones 5 through 10 and produces some of the tallest plants for the flower border. Ours has been producing scores of scarlet, star-shaped flowers in abundance, to the delight of the ruby-throated hummingbirds. The foliage is a striking glossy-green and its shape is reminiscent of maple leaves.
If you are into the tropical look, you can create your corner of paradise by combining scarlet rosemallow with large banana trees like the cold-hardy Japanese fiber banana or with elephant ears. Try using in combination with the yellow bush-form allamanda or yellow blooming canna lilies. Place the hibiscus to the back of the border to hide their giraffe leg-like stalks.
Though considered a plant for all soils, requirements for the scarlet rosemallow hibiscus are much like those of other perennials. Plant in well-drained, well-prepared beds and use a good layer of mulch to keep the soil evenly moist through the season. This hibiscus is found growing naturally in sandy, moist, acidic soils. Expect them to easily reach 6 feet in height and width, so space on 3-foot centers.
Choose a site with plenty of sunlight. Morning sun and filtered afternoon light are just about perfect. Hibiscus blooms on new growth, so it is important to keep it growing vigorously throughout the season. Keep them well fed and watered during periods of drought.
After your hibiscus has frozen in the fall, cut it back to ground level and add a little extra mulch. I always go for nursery-grown plants, but many gardeners ask if these can be grown from seed, and indeed they can. It does help to lightly scrape with sandpaper for easier germination.
You may be in love with the tropical Chinese hibiscus, but I predict once you can look past the name, you will fall in love with the scarlet rosemallow, or if you will, swamp mallow, too, and welcome it to your perennial garden.