It’s the flower of Hawaii, a national symbol of Haiti, and the national flower of nations including the Solomon Islands and Niue. The star-shaped flower of all hibiscus types is sought by gardeners everywhere. With so many different types of hibiscus out there, surely there’s something you can work with.
Whether you prefer tropical hibiscus cultivars, hardy hibiscus, or perennials, most large-scale nurseries and big box stores stock plenty. If your garden needs yellow, red, blue, pink, purple, or white flowers, chances are you’ll find a hibiscus cultivar that meets your needs.
In this piece, we’ll cover some of the most common and most striking hibiscus plants out there. We’ll discuss their width and spread, and whether they are tropical, hardy, or perennial. That way you have some information to take with you to the nursery when you choose your hibiscus plant.
A real funky-looking flower native to Phillip Island off of Australia, this plant only occurs in the wild in two clumps. While it has been propagated by humans elsewhere, no other evidence of this plant in the wild exists! Can you believe it? It’s a truly unique specimen, not just in its exceedingly rare wild growth habit, but also in its starfish-shaped hibiscus flower with clustered, pronounced stamens. It’s a tropical hibiscus as its native region may suggest, and it’s critically endangered. Incorporating this plant into your privacy screen or hedge is sure to distract passersby, and support the plant in the process.
The wooly rose-mallow or false cotton plant is a gorgeous true white flower. A short and stubby woody plant native to the US, this deciduous perennial blooms late spring through early fall. Able to grow in many Southern US states, it’s native to ponds and ditches, woodlands, and meadows. It tolerates some shade but thrives in full sun. Each white flower is 2 to 3 inches wide with a deep crimson center. When they bloom, these flowers pop from their shrubby greenery. One season of blooms opens up to many more with this dense perennial.
A compact shrub that grows to about 4-5 feet in height with ivory-colored petals with a blood-red center, this elegant plant with dark green leaves is a stunner and would fit in well in formal gardens. Commonly called the flower-of-an-hour due to its short-lived petals, it is now grown around the United States as a common garden plant, and even weed in some areas. Its distinctly-lobed leaves are characteristic of Old World plants, seemingly out of time. Many gardeners choose this annual to accent garden borders, and to attract bumblebees and Lepidoptera caterpillars.
A Hawaiian native shrub reaching 6 to 10 feet, this is one of the longer-lived hibiscus plants. It’s frequently used as a landscaping plant in containers and hedges, and due to its compact form, is great for screening. It’s very tolerant of high water soils and can even grow alongside waterways in some instances. Blooming year-round, this showy pink and purple petaled hibiscus stands out against the bright green foliage with heart-shaped leaves. Its light pink to purple flowers give gardens in the tropics a burst of color.
Hibiscus tiliaceus ‘Beach Beauty’
This hibiscus is a gorgeous ornamental native to a tropical region of Asia or Hawaii. The Beach Beauty botanical name of Hibiscus tiliaceus is given for its changing petal color. When this variety opens its flowers, it has bright yellow petals with a deep red center. As the day goes on, the petals deepen to orange and then finally turn red before falling off the tree – talk about a show! The plant can reach an impressive height of 13-33 ft. It is now grown in warm and tropical regions around the world and gets its sea hibiscus botanical name from its tendency to grow along waterways.
This bright and yellow hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii! Also referred to as yellow or Hawaiian hibiscus, this tropical hibiscus can at times grow up to 30 feet. More common however are shorter trees or shrubs reaching a more modest height of 15 ft. Flowering from spring through early summer, this is one of the hibiscus varieties with an earlier bloom time. Seven different species are native to Hawaii, but this one was the lucky favorite to be chosen as the flower for the state of Hawaii. It gets its Hawaiian hibiscus botanical name for that very reason.
Chinese hibiscus is probably THE most popular hibiscus species worldwide, and ironically is one of the tropical hibiscus varieties most commonly shown in photos of Hawaii (although it is grown there, it’s not native to the islands). Hibiscus rosa sinensis or China rose botanical is iconic. This Chinese hibiscus plant screams “I’m tropical!” through vibrantly-colored, readily-identifiable bright red flowers known worldwide. Believed to have originated in Asia, it comes in many colors with multiple flowers lasting a mere 24 hours. While the flowers themselves will be short-lived, the plants bloom over a very long season – in tropical areas almost year-round. Many birds and butterflies are attracted to Hibiscus rosa sinensis for its large colorful and delicate blooms. The flower is also strangely enough used as a shoe polishing agent in some tropical regions. This Chinese hibiscus variety primarily produces red, pink, orange, or yellow flowers.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Mango Liqueur’
Possibly one of the most striking of the common garden hibiscus, this cultivar with the hibiscus mango liqueur botanical name has a fluffy bright red flower bordered by a yellow gradient. The blooms are massive, at 6 to 8 inches wide, and last only 24 hours, like other rosa-sinensis varieties. Mango Liqueur resulted from the hybridization of the fluffy-flowered Muffin Man and the interestingly foliaged Crème de Cacao. Thus, the best of both worlds come together!
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Checkered Hibiscus’
The Hibiscus rosa sinensis Cooperii variety gets its checkered hibiscus botanical name from its varied red, pink, white, and green foliage. While it is sometimes commonly referred to as Rose of Sharon, it’s Hibiscus rosa sinensis, not Hibiscus syriacus. To encourage checkered foliage, expose this plant to full sun and moist soil. Just like the other rosa-sinensis varieties, this plant is tropical and deciduous. All of the varieties mentioned here do best in subtropical and tropical zones 9 and 10 respectively.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Lord Baltimore’
Lord Baltimore is a cold-hardy tender perennial that thrives in zones 4 through 9. Not only are the blooms massive, but they are also a flashy red, and sit atop tall stems that reach 4 to 5 feet tall. Spreading 2 to 3 feet wide, this shrub is an excellent addition to cottage gardens. The palmate leaves provide an accent that is atypical to colder regions where it can grow. It does best in moist rich soils and full sun.
One of the most famous roselle botanical hibiscus varieties, especially in the culinary world, this hibiscus plant also goes by the name of Roselle. With beautiful white hibiscus flowers emerging from blood-red flower buds, this is one of the common garden types of hibiscus, especially in herb gardens, due to its use in the drink commonly called ‘Jamaica’. This drink is known for its medicinal properties including… ahem… aiding toilet efforts and regulating blood pressure. It’s enjoyed in Central America in tea form, with lime and sugar. Enjoy responsibly.
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Rose of Sharon’
Usually referred to as “Rose of Sharon” hibiscus, this is a bushing form that can be pretty large. It’s one of the most common hibiscus varieties in garden centers. Able to reach 5 to 15 feet, this impressive specimen needs room to grow! It has large oval-shaped leaves and pretty pink ruffled flowers. Growing late into the season and able to tolerate part shade, it’s one of the most widely planted hibiscus trees. Though it requires little maintenance after planting, Rose of Sharon appreciates pruning before the year’s buds develop. This assists each Rose of Sharon hibiscus specimen in drought, poor soils, and varying light conditions. Hibiscus syriacus has a wide range of hardiness from zone 5b to subtropical 9a. It attracts pollinators and works well in cottage gardens, or as a privacy screen.
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Blue Bird’
The hibiscus Blue Bird, botanical name Hibiscus syriacus, is known for its stand-out purplish-blue coloring. A variety that flowers heavily, and loudly, this show-stopper is breath-taking while staying a compact 3-4 ft. tall. With slightly ruffled petals and dark green foliage, it works wonderfully in traditional or cottage gardens. Much like its relative, Rose of Sharon, Blue Bird has a wide range of hardiness from zone 5 to 9. In colder regions, Blue Bird loses its leaves in winter. It requires very little maintenance among other types of hibiscus. Gardeners find joy in planting several of these perennials to form a hedge. A single specimen in a container also adds a delightful splash of blue to a space. Because there are very few blue types of hibiscus, we recommend trying this one. It’s drought-tolerant and can survive in poor soils, too.
Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Cherry Cheesecake’
Of all the types of hardy hibiscus on the market, this variety looks the most like a giant hollyhock, just on a shrubby base. The Giant Rose Mallow botanical name Hibiscus moscheutos is a compact bush with very showy blooms that range in color from dark red to an off-white. The enormous flowers on this plant are stunning and eye-catching. Blooming from summer through the end of fall, this variety needs full sun and moist soil. It gets its cherry cheesecake botanical name from its white petals swirled with fuschia.
Hibiscus moscheutos var. ‘Blue River’
This Blue River II botanical is one of the most beloved Hibiscus moscheutos varieties. It’s one of the hardy and shrub-like types of hibiscus that has gorgeous snow-white flowers which bloom from July through September. It reaches 5 feet and spreads to 3 feet, and the blooms span 5 to 6 inches across. Parent plants of this adaptable perennial were found along the Blue River in Oklahoma and cultivated for home gardens, hence the name Blue River hibiscus.
Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Luna Pink Swirl’
A vibrant pink hibiscus, this variety has very showy flowers and is a wonderful container plant. This perennial is one of the varieties that can grow up to 3 to 8 feet in height and produces flowers that range from vibrant pink to pure white flowers. The Luna Pink Swirl botanical name comes from the white petals swirled with light pink. They have a relatively short blooming period from mid to late summer, but the flowers remain for 1 to 2 days each. This bush-like variety is great in containers, or the ground in zones 5 through 9.
Hibiscus arnottianus ‘Hawaiian White Hibiscus’
In Hawaiian, this is known as pua aloalo or Koki’o ke’oke’o and is a beautiful white hibiscus with ovular petals making it one of the odder tropical hibiscus plants. Often crossed with H. rosa sinensis to form a hybrid hibiscus, this species is one of the other native Hawaiian species of hibiscus. It is indigenous to the forests of Moloka’i and O’ahu. The lovely white blooms have a striking red stamen at the center, giving it a typical tropical look. As the flowers age, they turn slightly pink and take on a subtle and inviting fragrance in the morning. Those in tropical zones 9 through 11 can easily grow arnottianus outdoors, while those outside that range should set up a humid, warm space in a greenhouse.
Hibiscus mutabilis ‘Confederate Rose’
The Confederate Rose botanical name Hibiscus mutabilis, is originally native to China and Taiwan but is grown all around the world. This tropical hibiscus variety blooms one color before fading to another. It starts the day as a white or pink, and by evening turns a deep red color. Once the hibiscus flowers turn red, they remain on the plant for several days before dropping. Also known as the Dixie Rose Mallow due to its popularity in the American South.
One of the many bushy rosemallows found throughout the continental U.S. Frequently found in swamps and marshes throughout Florida, this large-flowered hibiscus has blooms that range in color from white to bright red, pink, and yellow. The petals of this perennial flower are separated rather than laid on top of one another, like other hibiscus species. The shrub grows wild and is prized for its day-long blooms in the southeastern United States.
Hibiscus coccineus ‘Texas Star Hibiscus’
A hardy hibiscus native of the Tropical region of Florida, this Hibiscus plant gets its scarlet rosemallow botanical name from the deep crimson blooms that grow in the heat of summer.
Also commonly known as swamp mallow, or Texas Star Hibiscus this perennial reaches 4 to 8 feet in height. It has longer leaves and flowers in summer. The swamp rose mallow produces gigantic hibiscus flowers that are truly epic in scale. Scarlet rose mallow is the botanical name of this riparian perennial that grows along ditches and in marshes and swamps. It’s one of those types of hibiscus people enjoy installing them along ponds and creek beds. Hibiscus coccineus grows well outdoors in the subtropics and tropics.
Hibiscus denudatus ‘Rock Hibiscus’
Native to the US and Mexico, this is one of the more hardy hibiscus plants as it can be found clinging to rocks despite its wispy foliage. The small flower opens as a pale purple to pink color. Also called rock hibiscus, this flower is certainly not what people think of when they think of hibiscus flowers! Rock hibiscus, botanical name Hibiscus denudatus is drought-tolerant and makes a lovely small shrub in any desert garden. The flower center is deep red to rust-colored, and blooms in late winter and early spring.
Commonly referred to as Comfortroot, Big Thicket Hibiscus, and Pineland Hibiscus, Hibiscus aculeatus is a small shrub that reaches up to 6 feet at maturity. Like many hibiscus types, this plant is sought after for its lovely cream-colored blooms with scalloped petals. The blooms have a dark red center. This hibiscus prefers partial shade, and blooms from summer to fall.
Hibiscus laevis (sometimes called Hibiscus militaris)
A rose mallow that can get up to six feet in height, this plant has large cup-shaped blossoms about 3 inches long and range in color from pink to white to maroon. It has 5 distinct overlapping petals that can be found blooming on the plant from late spring to mid-fall. These hibiscus roots can tolerate moisture well and attract many butterflies and birds.
Hibiscus acetosella ‘African Rose Mallow’
This African native perennial species gets its cranberry hibiscus botanical name from the slender red foliage and pinkish-red blooms. It’s best showcased in hedges, where the crimson foliage can back other lovely plants. The blooms are small and inconspicuous and present themselves from summer to fall. This plant is hardy in zones 8 and 9 and dies back in winter in areas outside of that hardiness range.
Alyogyne huegelii ‘Lilac Hibiscus’
This fast-growing evergreen hibiscus blooms 4-inch lilac to blue flowers from summer to late fall. It’s native to southwest Australia and does best in zones 9 to 11. Lilac hibiscus is a great accent to border garden beds or to incorporate in a Mediterranean garden. The hairy, palmate leaves are sensitive to frost but thrive in the tropical summer heat. While this isn’t a true hibiscus, it’s so lovely, we needed to give it an honorable mention among this list of hibiscus types.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How many varieties of hibiscus are there?
A: There are over 150 different varieties of hibiscus, with about 35 of them native to the continental U.S.
Q: How do I know what kind of hibiscus I have?
A: It can be hard to narrow it down to variety, but generally plants with glossy leaves tend to be a tropical hibiscus, while heart-shaped leaves with no gloss tend to be a hardy US & Canada native plant.
Q: What is the hardiest hibiscus?
A: While no one hardy hibiscus is hardier than the others, some of the more hardy hibiscus varieties are Luna Rose, Disco Belle Pink, and Luna Red.