There was a time when the forerunners of the present day hibiscus hybrids were scattered all over the globe, especially in places having warm and tropical climatic conditions. Botanists believe that there are eight original hibiscus species that can be considered as ancestors of the striking hibiscus hybrids found today. These ancestors are believed to be native to India, China, Mauritius, Hawaii, Fiji, or Madagascar.
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The forerunners of the present day hibiscus hybrids are similar to their successors in several ways. These ancestors could be differentiated from other plants as they were tall growing, mostly supple trees that flowered freely and formed seeds through self-pollination, which gave rise to new plants, genetically akin to their parents. However, the blooms of these ancestors were smaller compared to the present day hibiscus hybrids. Nevertheless, the plants produced copious single-hued flowers. These plants as well as their flowers were introduced in Europe way back in the 1700s and about 100 years later in the United States.
Among the annually growing hibiscus species, Manihot and the African are the most familiar varieties seen cultivated in gardens. They are very attractive plants having a somewhat distinctive appearance. They are considered to be different from the other hibiscus plants.
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Hibiscus plants bearing white and pink flowers are among the perennially growing plants that are most often cultivated in gardens. Both these varieties are outstanding plants that produce large attractive and bold flowers measuring approximately 5 inches across.
Generally, hibiscus flowers remain on the tree just for a day after blooming. They open in the morning and the flowers begin to wilt by the time it is late afternoon. As if the plants compensate for this poor show by producing copious buds that grow very fast and all keep opening every time. Propagation of hibiscus is usually done by its seeds. Alternatively, they can also be propagated by means of root divisions and should preferably be planted along the borders in your garden.
Provided you sow the seeds at the onset of spring, the plants will flower frequently during the first season itself, and the size as well as the beauty of the flowers will keep enhancing for the initial five years of their existence. At the same time, the plants will maintain their excellent looks.
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As hibiscus plants grow quite tall, ideally they should be planted close to the borders and once the planting is over, they require very little care. All that you need to do is cut the flowering stems once they stop blooming for the season. While most hibiscus flowers usually do not have any aroma, some flowers are slightly fragrant.
Archaeologists have unearthed Chinese porcelain from the era of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) that is ornamented with drawings of hibiscus flowers.
Hibiscus plants from the tropical regions are members of the Malvaceae (mallow) family. Other plants include the hardy hibiscus that is cultivated in the north, the Confederate Rose, the rose-of-sharon (also known as shrubby althea), hollyhock and a number of other species.
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Hibiscus rosa-sinesis, which is native to Asia as well as the Pacific islands, is Malaysia's national flower. This species has a close association with Hawaii, but the national flower of Hawaii is different - a native hibiscus species called H. brackenridgei. Flowers of this species occur in several thousand hues and color combinations (baring pure blue or black), while some plants produce blooms whose diameter range from 2 inches to as big as 10 inches - 12 inches. A number of varieties even grow into bushes, which have an extremely sluggish growth - for instance, growing just about a foot in many years. On the other hand, some hibiscus varieties grow up to a height of 15 feet if they are allowed to grow unrestricted. The range of flowers of plants belonging to the tropical hibiscus family is amazing - some blooming in singles and doubles, while there are others that bloom nearly daily.
Till the turn of the 19th century, people knew little about the hibiscus native to Hawaii and interest regarding these species developed by the end of the century. While a number of hibiscus varieties were brought from China and hybridized with the species native to Hawaii. Gradually, the interest regarding these plants spread to mainland United States and Florida turned out to be the hub of this interest, giving rise to the Reasoner family, one of the earliest pioneers. In 1950, the American Hibiscus Society was set up and Norman Reasoner became the first president of the society.
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Apart from Hawaii, people in Australia too have a great interest in hibiscus. It is believed that hibiscus plants were introduced in this island continent as early as the beginning of the 19th century. However, the actual interest in the genus started much later when the Brisbane city council imported 30 hibiscus plants from India for landscaping purpose around the city. Gradually, people in the northern region of New Zealand also got involved in this hibiscus culture.
If you are growing hibiscus in areas having frosts, it is advisable that you should grow your favourite grafted plants in containers or pots and bring them indoors during the winter months. In fact, several gardeners grow their entire hibiscus plants in pots.
People inhabiting the regions lying in the edge of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean have cultivated hibiscus for several centuries now. To some extent, the expansion of colonialism during the 18th as well as the 19th centuries contributed in developing the present day romantic image of the flowers. It is believed that the name Hibiscus has its origin in the Greek term "hibiskos". Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides gave this name to a marshmallow plant having close association with the hibiscus way back in the 1st century A.D. People in China have been growing a very old species called Hibiscus rosa-sinensis for its ornamental flowers. It is believed that this species have been grown for several hundred, if not several thousand years, as so far botanists have not yet been able to find any record of these plants growing in the wild. While it has been found that plants of this species were in cultivation in many regions of Asia, the earliest available documents reveal that H. rosa-sinensis was grown in the areas around temples in China. This not only indicates that this species is native to China, but also gives it its name "sinensis".
It is interesting to note that hybridists in Hawaii have used just three native species, counting the Hibiscus arnottianus, which bears pearl-white aromatic flowers, along with over 33 species brought in from several other countries, especially H. schizopetalus and H. cameronii, which are native to East African nations, to hybridize and re-hybridize them extensively to produce over 5,000 horticultural hibiscus varieties that we see today. When we talk about "horticultural" here, it denotes that botanists recorded the genetic parentage as well as identified the offsprings, but not the entire 5,000 varieties merited further propagation and promotion. Conversely, it was found during hybridizing trials that roughly only one variety out of 100 or 200 was capable of producing the desirable attributes, such as excellent flowers, foliage, form and an overall good performance.
Of these successful varieties, hybridists again developed novel tropical hibiscus cross breeds having large and luscious blooms, fascinating hues and a remarkable range. At this stage, the hybrid hibiscus varieties had already overshadowed the original species and the Hawaiians adopted them so eagerly that they not only established the first ever hibiscus society anywhere in the world there in 1911, but also passed a law in 1923 which made the hibiscus flower the symbol of Hawaiian territory.
Botanists and hybridists in Florida had accomplished intensive hybridizing of hibiscus by the middle of the 20th century and now the focus of work moved from Hawaii to the United States' south-eastern regions. Much later, horticulturists in Australia started developing further new cultivars with unparallel success. By the time we entered the 1980s, already people were cultivating more than 4,000 recognized hybrids of the tropical variety.
As of now, over 10,000 hibiscus hybrids are being cultivated in different places across the globe. All through this breeding endeavours, the species H. rosa-sinensis continued to be the most significant parent genetically, but there were several other species that were used simultaneously. There has been so extensive hybridization that now it is extremely difficult to exactly establish the tropical hybrids that are actually offsprings of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and which were developed from other original species. There is, however, no doubt that it is high time that there ought to be a clarification regarding the common use of the expression "rosa-sinensis hybrids". In fact, there are several Hawaiian hybrids as well as Fijian hybrids that have not been derived from the original species Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. However, there are some varieties that do have their ancestry related to H. rosa-sinensis, but the breeding happened so long back that they hardly possess any attribute of the species today. Thus, there is no recorded parentage of these Hawaiian and Fijian hybrids along with several others.