This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in The Bermudian in May 1952. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
The Garden Hibiscus needs little introduction for it is found in practically every garden and is frequently grown as hedges along the roadsides. Undoubtedly it is second to the Oleander in providing the special floral features of these Islands. The present day varieties, of which there are several hundred, are hybrids of Hibiscus, rosa-sinensis and H. schizopetalus. As a flowering shrub the Hibiscus has been cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical countries for a very long time. It is thought that the species H. rosa-sinensis originated in China and Japan, but this is not definitely known. There appears to be no authoritative date of the introduction of this flowering shrub to Bermuda. Mention is made of the plant in 1832 so obviously it must have been introduced some time before that date.
Garden lovers in various parts of the world have realized the immense possibilities of the Hibiscus as a flowering shrub, and have, and still are raising new varieties by hybridization and selection. Several varieties have been raised locally but most of the choice kinds were raised in Florida and Hawaii. Recently new varieties have found their way into Bermudian gardens by importations from Florida. The average visitor may not be aware of these new varieties since the older types dominate the hedgerows, which are without a doubt hard to beat. There is the large single red, the single pink and the double pink, all of which make excellent hedge material, preferably informal hedges. However, formal hedges of Hibiscus can be very spectacular at certain seasons when the large flowers are produced on short stems, with the neatly cut branches covered with foliage forming a solid background. Although the plants are so attractive when trimmed as formal hedges, the finest specimens are those which are grown naturally with the minimum of pruning.
In such cases some magnificent effects can be obtained by allowing the plants to grow to their normal dimensions. Masses of flowers are produced and the plants continue to bloom over a long period. Some varieties are much stronger grower than others,, especially the large single pink and single red kinds. These are frequently used for the formation of wind breaks to protect the more tender crops of fruit and vegetables. In very exposed positions the Hibiscus becomes defoliated during the winter months, although it is essentially an evergreen plant. In addition to the varieties already mentioned, there are some very pleasing shades of pink, red, yellow and white. Some have light-shaded petals with a dark thorax, while some kinds have single flowers and some have double flowers. Many of the double-flowered varieties resemble huge roses.
The individual flowers of the single kinds vary from two inches to eight inches across the flower. An interesting feature of the plant is that the flowers only remain open for one day. This factor is not always realized because new buds open daily and the impression is that of flowers lasting for a very much longer period. Another feature worthy of note is that seeds are rarely found on the Hibiscus plants, unless the flowers have been hand pollinated. The reason for this lack of seeds is soon realized by examining the flowers. The stigmas are carried on long stalks protruding from the centre of the flower. Well below the stigmas are the anthers or pollen-bearing parts. Despite the fact that insects visit the flowers and some of the pollen is carried away by the visiting insects, the stigmas are so far above the parts of the flowers that attract the insects that the pollen is rarely brushed on to the stigmas The flowers are very easily hand-pollinated, when seeds are freely produced.
Although new varieties are raised from seed, the usual method of propagation is by cuttings. Properly prepared cuttings root quickly in the spring. Very often new hedges are started by planting cuttings or well-ripened wood in situ. Some of the the choice kinds are rather weak growers. These are usually budded or grafted on to the stronger growing varieties. By this method a weak grower is able to develop into a strong floriferous plant.