“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote. “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” And, although his meaning was not about the plant with thorns, let’s probe his words a bit further with the question: when is a rose not a rose?
For many gardeners, there are several answers, including:
• Confederate rose (hibiscus mutabilis) is a popular Southern passalong plant noted for its showy flowers that bloom in late summer or fall. A member of the hibiscus family, it is also called cotton rose because its round flower buds resemble cotton bolls.
• Rose mallow (hibiscus coccineus) is a vigorous perennial that features showy, hollyhock-like, five-petaled, bright scarlet red flowers with ruffled edges from mid summer to early fall. Another name is swamp hibiscus because it is native to marshes in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
• Rose of Sharon (hibiscus syriacus) is also called althea, a vase-shaped deciduous shrub. Showy, hollyhock-like, five-petaled flowers appear from early summer to fall. Flowers can be blue, lavender, rose, red or white.
• Yellow rose of Texas (Kerria japonica pleniflora) is neither a rose nor from Texas. It is valued for its bright golden yellow rose-like pom-pom flowers along arching green stems in mid to late spring. Its origin is China and Japan, dating back many hundreds of years. Unlike most of the hibiscuses, it performs best in lightly shaded areas where its brilliant flowers stand out.
• Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is a shade plant that combines evergreen dissected foliage with beautiful blooms in January and February. It is a long-lived plant that rarely needs dividing. Helleborus grows best under deciduous trees that provide winter sun and summer shade.
• Primrose, often seen along the highways, is a heat loving plant. Varieties include Primula polyantha hybrids in many colors, pink primrose (Oenothera speciosus Rosea), Japanese primrose (primula japonica), Mexican primrose (Oenothera speciosa), poker primrose (primula vialii), yellow Missouri primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) and English primrose (Primula vulgaris). Some can be invasive.
• Moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora) is a succulent that features ruffled rose-like flowers in red, rose, orange, yellow and white. An annual, it typically grows about 8 inches tall and up to 12 inches wide. Flowers do not open on cloudy or rainy days.
Hibiscus is a genus in the mallow family (Malvaceae) that prefers full to part sun, although it will flower in moderate shade. It also needs moist, fertile soil, but can tolerate poor drainage. One of the reasons hibiscus plants are so highly prized by gardeners is their ability to provide beauty and enjoyment in the garden for very little work.
With careful selection, you can have hibiscus blooming in your garden from early spring until the first hard freeze in late fall. The Confederate rose blooms in October. Some are evergreen and others drop leaves and die back to the ground for winter. Tropical hibiscuses prefer temperatures in the 60s or above.
All are audacious in the garden, but they do need space to grow. Some get 18 feet tall and spread 15 feet. So read the label if you are buying.
Last fall on a gardening tour to Mississippi, 50 Arkansas Master Gardeners were awestruck by the Confederate rose in bloom everywhere. The plant’s unique features are the flower’s ability to change colors throughout the day. On some specimens, flowers open in the morning as snowy white, turn pink during noon and deep red in the evening of the same day. Then the flowers wither and fall off the bush. On others, the opening blossom may be pink, turning to white or even a darker pink as it ages.
A native of China, the Confederate rose made its way to the gardens of England in the 1600s, and eventually to America’s South. According to Southern lore, the flower was pure white until it was soaked with blood on the Confederate battlefields, turning it red.
Being true gardeners, we all wanted to take one home. But it was not the season, so we left empty handed.
Then a few months later, fate stepped in. During tax season, in my volunteer role as an AARP counselor, I chatted with a client/fellow gardener who asked if I had ever heard of Confederate rose. Not only had I heard of it, but our tax reviewer/boss Joe Irwin was even more knowledgeable and has been growing this prized heirloom in his landscape for years.
Then she asked, “Do you want one?” Does a gardener ever turn down a passalong? To make a long story short, her husband went to their truck and returned with a 7-inch plant that had been rooted in water.
Confederate rose can be a small tree, a perennial or an annual, depending on where you live. I thought hardiness might be iffy in our Zone 7, but Joe has been successful. His plants die back to the soil line after a killing frost but return with a vengeance in spring. If grown in a container, Confederate rose can be moved indoors before temperatures dip to 40 degrees in the fall.
It is also easy to propagate. Here’s how Joe has plenty of plants to share in the spring:
“Before a killing frost, cut the stalks and then cut them into 4-6 inch lengths. Then put them in a bucket of water in a protected area where they will not freeze. They should root within a month. Then you can pot them up or leave them in the water (changing it periodically) until spring.”
Once the soil warms up, it’s time to share with friends.
Hibiscus plants are easy to find at garden centers now. There will be several varieties at the Master Gardener plant sale May 5, and gardening friends may have seeds or newly rooted plants to pass along.
The practice of passing along plants is key to feeling truly fulfilled as a gardener. This tradition is about old plants, old and young people, memories, shared experiences and feelings, history and advice, according to Steve Bender and Felder Rushing who coined the phrase in their book, “Passalong Plants.” Once experienced, it is never forgotten.
Next week, the topic will be: the “primary physician” for your roses.
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to email@example.com.