By JOYCE COMINGORE
Come one come all, to the greatest flower show in Lee County! See the clouds of color at the free Hibiscus Show.
The James E. Hendry Chapter of the American Hibiscus Society is holding its show Sunday June 3, at the Araba Shriner's Temple, 2010 Hanson St., in Fort Myers. There are plants for sale. These are examples of the finest hibiscus rosa-sinensis genus, better known as the "Queen of the Tropics."
Hibiscus are a genus of the Mallow family-Malvaceae. With over 250 species, this genus includes both annual and perennial herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees. It includes Hibiscus Cannabinus, useful in paper making, okra, cotton, marshmallows, hemp (rope) to roselle for tea making.
All parts of the hibiscus are edible, the leaves and blooms in salads, pickled or battered and fried, dried, candied. Some red ones are used for dyes, and it has long been known as the shoe-black plant, used to polish shoes, dye hair and eyebrows. Red flowers, when crushed, turn to black, which is why they are not used to wear in Hawaiian leis. Their roots are used in Indian traditional (Ayurveda) medicines as well as a number of medical uses in Chinese herbology.
Symbolically, it is the state flower of our 50th state, Hawaii. Hibiscus syriacus is the much honored national flower of South Korea and the Rosa-sinensis is the national flower of Malaysia. The red hibiscus is the flower of the Hindu goddess Kali, and appears with her in the art of Bengal, India. This hibiscus is used as offerings to goddess Kali and Lord Ganesha in Hindu worship. Tahitian women tuck a single flower behind their right ear to show they are looking for a lover, and behind the left to say a lover has been found.
In 1753, Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist that is the father of taxonomy, published his "Species Plantarium," grouping several species of hibiscus under the name Rosa-sinensis, rose of China, because they had been found in China. Because no origin of wild species can be found in China, and DNA has been found in India, there is a growing belief that India is the origin of hibiscus. Migrating people brought their cuttings in two different routes-one to China and the other route went into the Indian Ocean and South Pacific islands. The most significant hybridizing began in the early 20th century in Hawaii, India, Ceylon, Fuji and in Florida.
In 1881, Pliny and Egbert Reasoner of Bradenton (Oneca) Florida became the first commercial nurserymen to take an interest in bringing hibiscus wood from Hawaii to propagate hibiscus. Hibiscus' popularity surged during the Roaring '20s here, and subsided until after World War II.
A great deal of confusion in variety names existed. Name tags were lost in shipping wood and plants of the same variety were being given local names, hence, James Hendry bloom is also Hula Girl. No information was available on the care, cultivation and culture.
Harry Goulding of Punta Gorda, one of our top hybridizers, as opposed to pollen dusters, studied the needs and habits of okra and cotton to find answers. In 1948, Norman Reasoner, Pliny's grandson, started "The Florida Hibiscus Bulletin." This became one of the prime movers of uniting hibiscus growers that needed more information and knowledge about hibiscus.
Five of the top hibiscus nurserymen formed the American Hibiscus Society in 1950, then organized and catalogued the available known hibiscus. Under the International Rules of Nomenclature, the first original name shall be the one to take precedence. The University of Hawaii held most of the answers. So, they started there.
The key word in describing hibiscus is-variable. Each plant has its own needs and characteristics. Their growing needs are similar to most ornamentals, except that they are not cold hardy. Hardiness is zones 9 -11. They like a 6.5 ph, slightly acid soil. They become chlorotic in alkaline soil. They don't sit well in standing water, except for swamp mallows. Yellow leaves that drop, mean it is a stress signal - too much or too little water, too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry, too much or too little fertilizer, etc. Variable is the norm.
Regular fertilization is essential to healthy, vigorous plants-lightly and often, but water well before and after applying, and never near the trunk. With our chlorotic soil, an ample supply of micronutrients is essential; consider even a foliar spray with trace elements. There is enough phosphorus in alkaline soil and it doesn't leach away, so they need nitrogen and potassium ... too much phosphorus in alkaline soil locks up or renders unavailable some micronutrients. Use a systemic insecticide, and never use malathion, use oil sprays when the temperature is under 80 degrees, dish soap and not detergent, as well as water sprays. Other than that - a well fed and watered plant is a healthy plant that can resist trouble. Prune from late February to early October-pruning creates tender new growth that will freeze in cold weather, causing dieback onto the good wood. Leave them be from November through February.
When propagating seeds, pollen dusting needs a helping hand. This way, you know the parentage. In one seedpod, there can be up to 15 fertile seeds, with no two plants and blooms are alike in the same seed pod. The only way to get identical plants is to do cuttings or grafting. Unless your plant is the hardy garden variety, it is necessary to use Pride of Hankins rootstock. It's not that Pride of Hankins is resistant to nematodes, it just grows faster than nematodes can plug them up.
The lovely thing about the bloom is-they last as long off the bush as on the bush, making them excellent for decorating. Look, no water needed!
Enjoy the show, and thank a tree for clean air.
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, a national board member of the American Hibiscus Society, Arbor Day Chairman for the Lee County/Fort Myers Garden Council, tree chairman for 9th District of the State Federated Garden Club and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.