Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: Hibiscus laevis

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and the July Wildflower Wednesday celebration. Please get comfy and let me tell you the story of how our star wildflower arrived in the garden.

Late this past spring we attended a gardening fair and I immediately started looking for native plant vendors. There were a few tables, but, only one vendor offered unusual natives and it was there that I spotted Hibiscus coccineus. It was a beautiful plant with well branched stems and a healthy root system, so I gladly bought it and carried the pot around while enjoying the show.

Hibiscus coccineus is not native to Tennessee, but long time readers know that I will occasionally push the native plant boundaries and add a non Tennessee native plant if it has something special going for it and Rose Mallow has that it quality! It meaning it's a dramatic and striking plant with bold palmately lobed leaves, glossy red flowers that bloom most of the summer and is beloved of hummingbirds.

 Of course I bought it!
The weather that weekend was hot and dry and I was concerned that it would have a tough time in my dry as concrete summer garden, so I planted it in a large container (near the faucet) and waited for those gorgeous big red blooms.
Each flower lasts only a single day.
The first blooms opened in late June, they were quite lovely, only they weren't big or red. Instead the blossoms were a lovely white with deep maroon throats.

My Rose Mallow was really Hibiscus laevis/halberd-leaved rose mallow.

Halberd/spear shaped leaves with long straight stems
Had I been familiar with this native Hibiscus I might have recognized its telltale three-lobed leaves  which resemble the shape of the 15th-16th century halberd spear and not the palmate lobed leaves of the Texas Star Hibiscus.

Hibiscus coccineus leaves~simple first leaves and true leaves
Am I disappointed? Only a little. I'll eventually get the other Hibiscus, and in the mean time, I have a cool Tennessee native plant that promises to bloom for most of the summer.**
features a central column that combines the flower’s sexual parts (pistil and stamens)

Halberd-leaved rose mallow gets its name from the arrow/halberd shaped leaves. I've enjoyed learning about this plant's characteristics/needs and reading what various nurseries have to say about it. One nursery said the flowers were accessorized with highly showy stamens. Another educated me that like orchids, it features a central column that combines the flower’s sexual parts, pistil and stamens and others shared the Mallow family's history as a medicinal plant to treat sore throats, toothaches, and diarrhea. And let's not forget that mallow roots (not this one) were the original source for making marshmallow candy.
The first bloom late June

Hibiscus laevis is found naturally near wetlands, streams, ponds, and other moist soil habitats, but will do fine in the garden. I suspect that means if the soil is rich and moist, rather than concrete like mine gets most summers. Which is one reason why I planted it in a container near a faucet.

Wildlife value:

I have yet to capture any photos of pollinators other than ants visiting the flowers. But, H laevis attracts bumbles and even has a bee that specializes on it. "The Rose-mallow Bee (Ptilothrix bombiformis) uses this plant as a primary pollen source to feed its larvae. These beautiful flowers are also a dating hot-spot, as male and female Ptilothrix will meet at the flowers to mate. The female bee collects the pollen grains and carries them in specialized hairs on her rear legs to transport them to her nest. She then sculpts the pollen into a ball, lays an egg on it, and seals the nest to allow the larvae to develop over the winter. This pollen mass provides the larvae with all the nutrition it needs to develop into an adult. The next summer, Hibiscus blooms again, the new adults emerge from their nest, and the harmony between flower and bee continues for another generation." Source

Some insects feed destructively on Hibiscus spp. (Rose Mallow). Caterpillars of the butterfly, Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), feed on the flower buds and developing seeds, while caterpillars of the butterfly, Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), feed on the foliage, as do caterpillars of Pyrgus communis (Checkered Skipper). Larvae of such moths as Eudryas unio (Pearly Wood Nymph), Anomis erosa (Yellow Scallop Moth), Automeris io (Io Moth), and Acontia delecta (Delightful Bird-Dropping Moth) also feed on these plants. Source


Hibiscus laevis
Common name: smooth rose mallow or halberd-leaved rose mallow
Family: Malvaceae
Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub/Deciduous
Zones: 4 to 9
Sun Requirements: Full Sun to partial shade. Flowers needs full sun to completely open.

Native Distribution: Moist low-lying areas in Eastern USA into Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa As far north as eastern Canada.
Habitat: Marshes, along river banks and streams, mucky places
Plant Height: 4-6 feet
Plant Spread: 2-3 feet
Flower Color: Multi-Color: White to pink with maroon eye
Bloom Size: 5"-6"
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf
Flower Time: Late summer or early fall
Wildlife Attractant: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract bumblebees and an oligolectic bee, Ptilothrix bombiformis, Butterflies and occasionally hummingbirds
Propagation: Spreads by seed and can be propagated by stem or tip cuttings
Maintenance: Keep soil moist. It's slow to emerge in spring in cold areas so be patient. They may not emerge from soil until June.
Containers: Suitable in 3 gallon or larger.
Comments: Tolerant of humidity. The flower has a deep taproot and spreads by seed. Be aware that this plant can and might colonize in a damp spot. This plant is related to okra; it has a gummy, slimy sap. Other members of the mallow family produce the sap that, when whipped with sugar, was the origin of our marshmallow candy. Japanese beetles will eat this plant.
Uses: Border, hedge, cottage garden, wildflower garden. Wet spots in garden. A much better plant than it's "cousin" the invasive Rose of Sharon.

How lucky for me that a mislabeled plant turned out to be such a delightful beauty.


PS **I got it, I got it. Thanks to Terri Barnes of GroWild. She found it for sale at Cullowhee Native Plant Conference.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky. 

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I wonder if any of the vendor's plants were actually what they were labeled, or if the others who bought them were surprised as well. I am glad it was at least that! I see it is native in Nebraska. I'm not sure if I have a moist enough spot for it, although I do have some plants that prefer moisture that probably do not get as much of it as would be ideal for them.

    1. I wondered that, too, Sue. It looked like she grew it herself.

  2. I have a post but I'm having trouble with Mr. Linky today! https://www.maydreamsgardens.com/2019/07/good-news-summer-isnt-over-just-yet.html

    1. I may be dropping Mr Linky. He often doesn't work.

  3. Similar to a plant swap, sometimes you get surprised. At least it's a nice native plant for your garden. I grow both the red and white Texas Star Hibiscus. They aren't native to my dry part of Texas and take a lot more water than most natives. I should have planted them by the hose bib as you did.

    Back for the first time in a while with Texas Greeneyes. Mr. Linky worked, I had to refresh my screen before I could see my post.

    1. I am running out of spots by the hose bibs! Welcome to WW!

  4. Tim and I spent a number of summers doing research on swamp rose mallow at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center — it’s a great plant!

    1. That's cool, Lisa, I met Hibiscus grandiflorus/swamp rose mallow today while visiting a native plant nursery. Loved it.

  5. This bloom looks really pretty up against your brick. I have this plant. I have had it for 30+ years. I moved it from place to place as I have moved. I bet it will acclimate to your soil. It is not only beautiful but it is a tough plant.

    1. Good to know and I like it with the brick, too.

  6. Even though it was labeled incorrectly, it is beautiful!
    A similar thing happened to me - I bought a Rose of Sharon labeled 'Red' at a Master Gardeners Plant Sale. It turned out to be 'Red Heart' - pretty, but not what I thought it was.
    I think the native Hibiscus I have is Hibiscus moscheutos. I posted a photo on my Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post if you would like to see it. https://leasmenagerie.blogspot.com/2019/07/garden-bloggers-bloom-day-july-2019.html
    Have a great day!
    Lea @ Lea's Menagerie

    1. I think mislabeling happens alot more than we thinl. I like this surprise.

  7. Mislabeled plants drive me crazy, but then sometimes they have a benefit. I would probably sacrifice my Hibiscus flowers in exchange for more Painted Ladies and Gray Hairstreaks.

  8. Interesting how you thought you had one, but it turned out to be another. Both are beautiful. I haven't tried to grow Rose Mallows here, even though they're native in my area. Maybe it's time! ;-)

  9. Running late - we lost our internet. Back later to catch up with yours and your links.

  10. Your mislabelled does have beautiful leaves. Would be attractive in a vase too. A bud vase with two leaves supporting a flower.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson