Hibiscus mutabilis (Cotton Rosemallow)

Pink flower and buds of Hibiscus mutabilis

Hibiscus mutabilis is a very striking mallow that produces huge flowers, similar in form to a double rose or peony. As ‘mutabilis’ (changeable) suggests, the flowers mature from white through pink to red, displaying flowers of all three colours on the same shrub. Well, that’s what Wikipedia says.

We found this plant growing in a cemetery in South Mississippi. In stature, it was as magnificent as its flowers: considerably taller than me, and nearly as wide as it was tall. It seemed to be fending for itself in the full sun with no ill effects other than slightly droopy leaves.

Call me a nitpicker, but this is a ‘plain’ pink double form. It’s the same colour in the bud as in the open flower, as shown here – just one shade of pink. An immutable mutabilis, we might say.

I’ve tried everything I can think of to discover its botanical name, although the plant must be familiar to gardeners in Texas or Mississippi. My sweetheart came over all I dunno when asked, then put some feelers out to his well-respected buddies. They are agreed that at least three forms of Hibiscus mutabilis are commonly grown as passalong plants. A form with single flowers is less often seen than two double forms – one that changes colours, and this one that does not. But its botanical name remains a mystery.

Pink Hibiscus mutabilis bud

I did find an illustrated reference to a pink form labelled Hibiscus mutabilis ‘Plena’, which has to be my best guess. To my eye, the flower is more fully double than the one illustrated here and has a shorter inner ruff of petals.

Perhaps it is one of those plants that hardly needs a botanical name. Whatever it proves to be, I’m a fan. I appreciate its harmless excess. I like the way its petals have the ribbed effect that is so characteristic of the mallow family. 

Hibiscus mutabilis (cotton rose) flower - pink double form

One of the qualities of the climate in the Southern States of America that always takes me by surprise is its ability to produce great amounts of plant material so quickly. It seems incredible that a plant like this could be cut back to the ground by a winter frost and have sprung back to be a 4 m / 12 ft tree-like, multi-stemmed shrub by autumn. We Lancastrians should not think of trying this back home.

Shared for Cee’s Flower of the Day

39 Replies to “Hibiscus mutabilis (Cotton Rosemallow)”

  1. We Mainers shouldn’t think of cutting it back either. If, indeed, it would even grow in our cold climate. Anyway, what a magnificent beauty. Also, I really like the ring of “An immutable mutabilis.” Sounds like some kind of spell to me. 😉

    1. Latin is good for spells. You’ve somehow reminded me of when I worked in a place where an indefinite overtime ban was shorter than a definite ban. I often think of that.

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