Thursday, September 5, 2013

July 2013 Plant of the Month - Swamp Rose Mallow, Hibiscus palustris

Hibiscus palustris in the garden
I saw my first when I moved into a mobile home park on 1984. My neighbor was an avid gardener and had a yard full of flowers, which she invited me over to see. It was the first time I laid eyes in the beautiful pink robust blooms, which resembled the tropical hibiscus I had seen in Florida. She told they were Hibiscus and they were hardy and came back year. I was amazed. She dug one up and gave it to me. I planted it and the next year I some volunteers, some I relocated and some I in gave away. The descendants of these plants I still have today, many years later and the one I gave my parents is still living in their back yard. They start blooming every July so I chose them for my July plant of the month.   

I had never thought about my Hibiscus plant as a wildflower until one day driving up Rt 9 by Absecon Creek, I saw on, growing alongside the Phragmites. I also learned that they go by a variety of names such as Swamp Rose Mallow, Rose Mallow and Swamp Mallow. I later discovered large stands of them in salt marshes, in four varieties of pink, white, and both pink and white with a crimson eye. The flowers are quite large, about 3 inches in diameter. Unlike its tropical relative, this one does die back to the ground over winter, but will re-emerge in spring. When growing en mass, they are a sight to see. They prefer a moist to wet, organic soil, but will do well in most gardens as long as their is ample moisture. Full sun is best, but partial shade is also tolerated, though less blooms are produced. They are visited by hummingbirds and bees. I have often come out in the morning to find bumblebees sleeping in the flowers.

Growing these plants is quite easy. The seeds are round, about 2mm, and contained in a roundish pod. Wait until you see the pod had turned brown and starts to crack open. This is the ideal time to harvest them. Sow them in the fall outdoors and look for seedlings in the spring. If you will be sowing indoors, pre-treament of cold moist stratification is recommended to ensure the seeds break dormancy . Seedlings should emerge withing 2-3 weeks at 70 degrees. They can be potted up when they have 2 sets of true leaves.

I think it makes an excellent rain garden plant as well a pond plant. In the garden, I feel the closer you can mimic its natural conditions, the better success you will have. The plant is long lived and attracts wildlife and well beautifies the yard. With its easy care, this plant is a great choice for nearly any garden.

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