What Time is it in Nature: Scarlet Hibiscus
It’s mid-summer, so Prairie Ridge is a happening place! You’ll see animals darting across the trails as you walk and there are dozens of plant species in bloom. One plant in bloom now is quite spectacular, the Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus), and can be found in several locations on the grounds.
The Scarlet Hibiscus (also known as the Scarlet Rose Mallow, Swamp Hibiscus, or Red Water Hibiscus) is a shrubby flowering perennial plant that is native to the southeastern United States. It typically tops out at 6-8 feet in height and sports long, narrow stems that die back in the winter and regrow in the spring. The leaves are palmate, with 3-7 points that radiate out from the point where it attaches to the stem, and can get as big as 8 inches across. Each leaf lobe is narrow and pointed with a serrated edge.
These plants grow best in full sun and moist soils. In the wild, Scarlet Hibiscus are most often found growing in swamps, marshes, or ditches in wet or saturated soils. They are also found along rivers and streams where they are often taller than the other flowering plants, such as Pickerelweed, that grow in similar conditions.
The flowers of Scarlet Hibiscus are quite showy:
As you can see, they are brilliant red with five petals arising from the center of the flower. The pale green sepals wrap around the base of the petals and the reproductive structures are located along a long stalk that emerges from the center. Each flower only lasts about a day, but the plants produce many flowers over their bloom period in late summer so that they retain their showy appearance for several weeks. If a flower is fertilized, a fruit will grow where the flower attached to the stem. It will mature in the fall.
Scarlet Hibiscus is attractive to a variety of pollinators. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds can be frequent visitors, so the plants make an excellent addition to native pollinator gardens. You can often find other insects, such as the predatory long-legged flies and scentless plant bugs, lurking among the leaves and feeding on the seed pods.
You can find several examples of this gorgeous plant at Prairie Ridge. Next time you visit, stop by the garden near the kiosk in the parking area to look for insects on the leaves and flowers. You can also find fine examples of Scarlet Hibiscus in the Nature Neighborhood Garden and along the shore of the pond. These spectacular plants will remain in bloom for a few more weeks, so make a trip out to see them before the flowers disappear!
What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!
Photos by Chris Goforth