What is a Chinese Hibiscus?

Anna Harrison

Chinese hibiscus, or hibiscus rosa-sinensis, is a member of the Malvaceae family. It is an evergreen, woody perennial that is native to East Asia. Commonly known as China rose or shoe flower, it is frequently grown as a potted plant. While red, single flowers are the most common, there are hundreds of other cultivars. These include doubled and ruffled types of flowers in shades of pink, yellow, orange and white.

Red, single flowers are most common for Chinese hibiscus.
Red, single flowers are most common for Chinese hibiscus.

Closely related to the mallow family, this ornamental plant has bell-shaped flowers that resemble those of the hollyhock and cotton plants. It also looks much like the rose of Sharon shrub. All varieties of Chinese hibiscus flowers are unscented. The flowers are short-lived, only lasting a day or two, but are produced continuously.

Shoe polish may contain Chinese hibiscus.
Shoe polish may contain Chinese hibiscus.

The Chinese hibiscus can grow as tall as 15 feet (4.5 meters) in it’s natural habitat. It can be cut back to the ground each spring to keep it smaller and more manageable, however. As a potted plant, it usually reaches no more than 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall. Whether in a pot or in the ground, the plant should typically be pruned in spring. Pruning helps to increase both bushiness and flower production.

Hardy only in areas where the temperatures do not drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), the hibiscus is tropical in nature. It must be brought indoors where winters are cold, though keeping such a large plant inside all winter may prove cumbersome. The Chinese hibiscus can also be treated as an annual.

Propagating hibiscus cuttings typically is easy. The cuttings should only be a few inches long and taken from the newest growth on the shrub. As long as they are frequently misted, they normally grow into shrubs very quickly. The cut ends can be dipped into root hormone powder before planting, but it is not mandatory.

Hibiscus flowers are used throughout the world, in everything from salads to shoe polish. The most common use by far, though, is in tea. Made from the hibiscus flower called roselle (hibiscus sabdariffa), the tea is caffeine free and high in vitamin C. Described as tart and fruity, the taste may be too tangy for some. The addition of honey or sugar can make it more palatable.

Numerous studies have found that regularly drinking Chinese hibiscus tea effectively lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When used regularly, it may also help prevent heart disease. It has been used to prevent both bladder infections and constipation as well.

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