2017

 
 

Here is a stunning small tree for mild winter regions that can also be grown as a shrub or even as an annual in colder climes. It is an old-fashioned favorite that is long over-due for a comeback, especially with all of its new cultivars. This over-looked gem is the Confederate rose, a plant that is neither Confederate (it's from China) nor a rose (it's a Hibiscus). Confederate Rose is Hibiscus mutabilis, and was once quite popular in the southern states of the U.S. In warm areas it is an upright tree, often single-trunked, that reaches 15 to 20 feet tall with a 10 to 15 foot spread. In cooler areas it may only reach 8 to 10 feet with a more multi-stemmed, shrubby character. 
Confederate rose has a long list of assets. First, it's bloom period; in late summer when most other flowering trees and shrubs have played out, Confederate rose is just starting, adding bright bloom at a very welcome time and extending the garden show considerably. Also there is the quality of the bloom. These flowers are large, up to 8 inches across, and colorful. They open white turn delicate pink and finally dark pinkish red. The “mutabilis” part of the name refers to this mutability of color. And best of all, the white, pale pink and red flowers are all found simultaneously on the tree. These flowers are also a favorite of bees.
The flowers are so noteworthy that the foliage is hardly ever mentioned, which is a pity, since it’s wonderfully coarse and eye-catching. These large leaves are grass green and up to seven inches across. They are nicely lobed, resembling sycamore/maple type leaves and they have a soft, felty texture, not unlike Paper mulberry. The tree’s texture would blend in splendidly with finer textured and darker colored shrubbery, and in autumn the leaves turn a clear, bright yellow.
Confederate rose is not picky about soil just as long as it drains freely. And though it will grow and bloom in partial shade, to do it justice, it really should be grown in full sun, where the beautiful flowers will keep coming for weeks and weeks making it the star of the late summer/fall garden. There are also some nice cultivars: "Flore plena" (double blossoms), and "Rubra" (deep, carmine flowers) the most popular.
Confederate rose will grow outdoors across the southern US and in the UK where a south-facing wall would be best. It will also do well in New Zealand and is particularly well-suited to Australia. As usual, this special tree will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.

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Confederate rose

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