Georgia Gardener Newsletter Cool Plant: July 26, 2007

Swamp Hibiscus
Hibiscus coccineus
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Species Native Range: Southeastern U.S.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-11
Mature Size: 5-7 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide
Exposure: Full sun
Soil: Rich soil that is average to wet
Ease of Culture: Easy

What a stately presence our native Swamp Hibiscus makes in the garden. The toothed, dissected leaves appear in the spring and launch skyward. By summer, the reddish stalks are as tall or taller than most people. In mid to late July, the hummingbird-attracting, 6-8 inch crimson red flowers with prominent centers begin to open. Each flower lasts only one day, but the plant continues to bloom for several few weeks. Even without the flowers, the foliage is striking and adds both height and texture to the garden.

Swamp Hibiscus can be found growing wild in ditches and other low open areas along the gulf coast from the Carolinas to Louisiana. It does best in full sun with reliable moisture or soil that remains damp to wet. I have found that it does fine in rich garden soil, so long as it's in the sun.

Grow Swamp Hibiscus at the back of a perennial border, by a pond, lake or stream. Good companion plants include Swamp Sunflower, Virginia Sweetspire, Joe-pye Weed, Swamp Milkweed, Summersweet, Japanese Iris, Pickerel Weed and Winterberry.

The leaves of Swamp Hibiscus (as well as some other native Hibiscus species) have a striking resemblance to Marijuana, which caused one person in Houston to have a run-in with the law:

Story: "Cops Make Major Hibiscus Bust"

Of course, it's obvious that this is a Hibiscus when it comes into bloom, but until then you may want to let your neighbors know it isn't Marijuana.


Although several cultivars of this plant exist and can be purchased at most retail nurseries, the straight species is usually purchased from specialty nurseries.

You may want to consult the web site of the Georgia Native Plant Society for a list of nurseries that sell this plant.

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