281 Hibiscus mutabilisCommon Names: confederate rose, cotton rose Family: Malvaceae (mallow Family)
The confederate rose is a large shrub or small multi-stemmed tree that grows to 15 ft (4.6 m) high with about a 10 ft (3 m) spread. Neither a confederate (it hails from China but has taken a liking to the US southland), nor a rose (it's in Malvaceae, the hibiscus family). Dropping its leaves in winter the shrub's slender stems seem to disappear among neighboring plants until midsummer, when it leafs out into a big bushy mass. The large leaves are 5 - 7 in (13 - 18 cm), bright green, hairy on the undersides and deeply lobed. They impart a coarse texture that gives the plant a distinctive eye-catching appeal. Hibiscus mutabilis is downright conspicuous when in full bloom starting in late summer and on into fall. The flowers open pure white and change color over a three-day period until they are deep pink and then as they die assume a dark "blue-pink" hue. The most notable characteristic of this flowering shrub is that flowers of three distinct colors appear on the bush simultaneously as the blooms color cycle independent of one another. Single and double flowered varieties are available, both having quite large blossoms that are 3-5 in (8 - 13 cm) across. After flowering a round, hairy capsule forms which dries and releases fuzzy seeds, a trait that inspired one of the plants common names, rose cotton as the buds resemble the boll of that famous member of the hibiscus family. There is always great demand in garden centers for the Confederate Rose when it is in full bloom, for it is one of the most imposing and unusual of flowering trees.
Hibiscus mutabilis is native to southern China but is a favorite landscape plant in mild winter climates.
CultureLittle to no care required. This shrub truly takes care of itself and is adaptable to most locations and soil conditions. Light: Sun or light shifting shade. Moisture: This shrub thrives on regular watering but this is optional as it is very drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. Propagation: Propagate by cuttings, confederate rose is easy to root.
The showiest Confederate Roses are free standing specimens with no competition from other shrubs. The tree is at its best when it has been allowed to grow with minimal pruning into a natural, oval shape. The perfect shape, the large size, and the abundance of multicolored flowers are unique. A single tree planted in the front yard where it is easily seen from the road gives the plant the exposure it deserves.
Having said that, the confederate rose can more than hold its own in a mixed shrub border. The big bright foliage provides interest in summer and the fall flowers are spectacular.
Three attributes make this a highly desirable shrub - it's drought tolerant, low maintenance and has spectacular flowers at a time of year when not many other woody ornamentals are happening. True to its botanical name (mutabilis), it is mutable, it's flowers changing color with age.
Steve Christman 08/17/97; updated 10/29/02, 09/24/03