The halberdleaf marshmallow produces quantities of large showy flowers throughout the summer. Click to download a large version of this image.
A halberd is an ancient military hand weapon, like a long handled spear with a big double axe on the end, that was used by European soldiers in the 14th and 15 centuries. The weapon has been replaced by firearms and nuclear warheads, but the name lives on with this native American hibiscus, whose leaves have triangular lobes at their bases, then taper to a sharp narrow point. The leaves, 3-7 in (8-17 cm) long, and stems are glabrous (without hairs). Halberdleaf marshmallow can reach 7 ft (2.1 m) in height, and is mostly without branches. The very showy flowers, about 6 in (15 cm) across, open for just one day with five petals that are pale pink with crimson bases. A succession of blooms may last most of the summer. The fruit is a capsule that splits at maturity to release seeds that are covered with dense reddish brown hairs.
Location Hibiscus laevis occurs naturally in swamps, marshes, ditches and along water bodies in eastern Canada and central and eastern U.S., south to northern Florida and Texas.
Culture Light: This hibiscus prefers full sun. Moisture: Halberdleaf marshmallow grows in wetlands and is tolerant of poorly drained soils. Under ordinary garden conditions it will need regular irrigation. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4-9. Like the other species of Hibiscus native to North America, halberdleaf marshmallow is a perennial that dies back in winter. Propagation: Hibiscus seeds have a hard seed coat which must be breached before they will germinate. Carefully pierce each seed with a needle, or rub with a nail file or sandpaper to create a tiny break in the seed coat that will allow moisture to seep in. You can also propagate additional plants by dividing the roots.
Jack discovered this stand of halberdleaf marshmallow growing in a drainage ditch along a busy road.
Halberdleaf marshmallow is a great plant for the pond edge or any area that stays fairly moist. A stand of native American hibiscus plants, including this one, along with scarlet hibiscus (H. coccineus), swamp mallow (H. moscheutos) and giant hibiscus (H. grandiflorus), all in bloom, would be a spectacular show. I have a friend who lives on a North Florida river and has planted several native hibiscus right on the water's edge. I don't have any wet places in my yard, but I still grow several species of native Hibiscus in the vegetable garden where they get watered more than they would in any of the flower beds. Although halberdleaf marshmallow is a rather obscure native American plant, it is becoming popular and is now offered by several plant nurseries.
The seeds of halberdleaf marshmallow are clothed in a dense pubescence, like those of the closely related cotton plant (Gossypium hirsutum). Other close relatives of this mallow are okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), and no fewer that seven other species of Hibiscus profiled in Floridata. Marshmallow, the candy, was originally made with another close relative of Hibiscus, the African mallow (Althaea officinalis). An extract from the roots of the plant was used as a gelling agent. Today gelatin, made from bovine connective tissue, takes its place in commercial marshmallow recipes.