Backyard Nature Wednesday: Swamp hibiscus

Swamp hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus, is a native plant that occurs naturally throughout much of the South in swamps, marshes, and ditches. It often grows along southern rivers and streams, towering above other plants there. Established plants can grow up to 7 feet tall and occasionally even taller. It is a shrubby herbaceous perennial that dies back in winter and re-sprouts, putting up multiple stems, in the spring.

The flowers from this shrub can be 6-8 inches across. They have five petals and each blossom only lasts a day, but the shrub continues to produce new flowers throughout the summer and fall.

Because of the resemblance of the flower to the five-pointed star that is the symbol of Texas, in this state the plant generally goes by the name of Texas Star, but it has several others. Swamp hibiscus is the name by which it is most familiarly known throughout most of its range. It is also called scarlet rose mallow or scarlet hibiscus.

These last two names refer, of course, to the red variety of the plant, which is the most common, but there is also a white variety, Hibiscus coccineus 'Alba.'   

Hibiscus coccineus 'Alba'

I have both the red and the white varieties in my garden, but only the white, shown above, is blooming so far. My red plants got pruned back by some helpers that I had in my garden a few weeks ago, so it is going to be a while before they produce blooms. 

When the red ones do bloom, this is what they look like. This is a bloom from last year.

The leaves of the swamp hibiscus are divided like the fingers on a hand into 3-7 narrow, pointed, serrated lobes. The leaves, in fact, bear a close resemblance to another popular shrub, Cannabis sativa, the source of marijuana. This can sometimes cause people with some familiarity with cannabis but none with the hibiscus plant to do a double take, but once the plant starts putting out its enormous blooms, it can no longer be mistaken for anything else.


  1. How pretty those flowers are! Are they tropical plants? Because they bloom in the Caribbean as well.

    1. They are native to much of the southern United States, so not entirely tropical.

    2. Tropical and subtropical maybe.


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