All this month you will see the large, showy flowers of Hibiscus throughout the Parks. One of my favorites is the New England native Hibiscus moscheutos. How cool is that – to have a native plant that looks like it belongs in a tropical jungle, or waving in a Hawaiian breeze. The five petaled flowering Hibiscus moscheutos, commonly named Swamp Mallow or Common Rose Mallow, is a 3 to 5 foot tall, thick stemmed plant. Each flower has a prominent and showy, creamy white to pale yellow, central staminal column with both male and female flower parts. Hibiscus grow vigorously and robustly starting in mid-June, quickly sizing up and sending out its large leaves, and complex, galactic-looking flower buds.
The flowers open and bloom for just one day, but because there are so many flowers, rarely a day goes by without a great show of color. We have a number of varieties of Hibiscus; a bright, cherry red selection of Hibiscus moscheutos in the Rain Garden in Dewey Square; the cultivated hybrids in the Fort Point Channel parks including the popular Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’, with dark burnished leaves and a red glowing center; and the smaller, slightly more subtle species in the Wharf District Park. Near the “Harbor Fog” kinetic sculpture you can find the white Swamp Mallow paired with the tall, late blooming Ironweed. Vernonia provides a wonderful contrast to the Hibiscus. The Vernonia noveboracensis, or New York Ironweed, also a northeast native, is tall and lanky with a delicate array of purple blooms creating the perfect backdrop for the bold, husky Hibiscus.
The roots of the Hibiscus are woody, fat and fleshy, storing lots of food for next year’s growth. These large roots allow the plant to overwinter in our cold climate, sustaining them through the long winters. These plants need moisture and are even happy in swamps and wetlands. This makes them a great choice for Rain Gardens, where they can withstand having ‘wet feet’ during heavy rains, and make a bold statement in late summer when other flowers are slowing down.