Come one ... come all ... come to the greatest little flower show in Lee County. Step right into the clouds of color at the free 62nd Annual James E. Hendry Hibiscus Show Sunday at the Araba Shriner's Temple. Free parking is available at the temple, 2010 Hanson St., Fort Myers. There will be 700 plants for sale and raffles every half hour.
These are examples of the finest hibiscus rosa-senensis genus and species, better known as the Queen of the Tropics. Hibiscus are a genus of the Mallow family-Malvacea. With over 250 species, this genus includes species of both annual and perennial herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees. It includes Hibiscus Cannabinus (yes, I know what cannabinus is) useful in paper making, okra, cotton, marshmallows, hemp (rope), to Roselle for tea making.
All parts of the hibiscus are edible, the leaves and blooms in salads, pickled, battered and fried, dried and candied. It has long been known as the "shoe black" plant, sometimes used to polish shoes, dye eyebrows and hair; red flowers when crushed, turn black and stain. This is why they are never used in Hawaiian leis. Symbolically, it is the state flower of our 50th state, Hawaii. Tahitian women tuck a single flower behind their right ear to show they are looking for a lover; behind their left ear to say a lover has been found.
In 1753, Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, who is the father of taxonomy, published his Species Plantarium, grouping several species of hibiscus under the name, "Rosa-sinensis," meaning rose of China, because they had been found in China. Since there cannot be found any origin of wild species in China, and DNA can be found in a remote corner of India, there is a growing belief that India is the origin of hibiscus. But the name has been set in motion and it's too late to change. Migrating people in India brought their cuttings with them on two different routes-one to China; the other route went into the Indian Ocean and to the Pacific Islands. The most significant hybridizing began in the early 20th century in Hawaii, India, Ceylon, Fuji and in Florida.
In 1881, Pliny and Egbert Reasoner of Bradenton (Oneca), Fla., became the first commercial nurseryman to take an interest in bringing hibiscus wood from Hawaii to propagate hibiscus. Hibiscus popularity surged during the roaring '20s here, and subsided until after World War II. A great deal of confusion over varieties names existed. Name tags were lost in shipping and plants of the same variety were being given local names, hence, the James Hendry bloom is also called Hula Girl. With no information available about the care, cultivation and culture, Harry Goulding of Punta Gorda, one of our top hybridizers (as opposed to pollen dusters who pollinated whatever was available) studied the needs and habits of okra and cotton (family members) to find answers.
Five of the top hibiscus nurserymen formed the American Hibiscus Society in 1950, then organized and catalogued the available known hibiscus. Under International Rules of Nomenclature, the first original name shall be the one to take precedence. The University of Hawaii held most of the answers, so they started there.
The key word in describing hibiscus is - variable. Each plant has its own needs and characteristics. Their growing needs are similar to most ornamentals, except, for cold hardy. Hardiness zones are 9 to 11. They like a 6.5, slightly acid soil, becoming chlorotic in alkaline soil. Swamp Mallows are the only hibiscus that like wet feet. Dropping yellow leaves is a stress signal: too much or too little water, too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry, too much or too little fertilizer, etc. Variable is the norm.
Regular fertilization is essential to healthy, vigorous plants-lightly and often, but water well before and after applying-never near the trunk. With our chlorotic soil, an ample supply of micronutrients is essential; consider a foliar spray with trace elements. There is enough phosphorous in alkaline soil that doesn't leach away, so they need nitrogen and potassium. Too much phosphorous in alkaline soil locks up or renders unavailable some micronutrients. Use a systemic insecticide, and never use Malathion. Use oil sprays when the temperature is less than 80 degrees, or dish soap (not detergent) as well as the simple water spray. Other than that - a well fed and watered plant is a healthy plant that can resist trouble. Prune from late February to early October. Pruning creates tender new growth that will freeze in cold weather, causing dieback into the good wood. Leave them alone from November through February.
When propagating seeds, pollen dusting needs a helping hand. This way, you know the parentage of your seeds. In one seedpod, there can be up to 15 fertile seeds. Even coming from the same cross in the same seedpod, no two hibiscus blooms or plants will be identical, even from the same pod. The only way to achieve identical blooms is to do cuttings, air-layering or grafting. Hardy garden varieties stand up to nematodes fairly well, but for grafting exotic blooms, use Pride of Hankins. It's not that Pride of Hankins rootstock is resistant to nematodes, their roots grow faster than the nematodes can clog them up.
The lovely thing about these blooms is - they last as long off the bush as on it, making them ideal for decorating. Look Ma, no water needed. They do make lovely trees when pruned and shaped right. All the better to hug and thank for our fresh air.
Warning alert June 1 is the start of the hurricane season until the end of November. Eliminate all lose branches and dead wood. Empty any containers that can hold water, mosquitoes are breeding! Stay safe.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener; former president of the James E. Hendry Chapter of the AHS, Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council and District IX Arbor Day Chairman; and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.