Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Confederate Rose Blooms in NY

The Confederate Rose, Hibiscus mutabilis, is a plant one might expect to come across in the Deep South (though its actually native to milder regions of China and Japan). Indeed, I've never seen one up here in NY before. So naturally I had to pick up one when I was at a sale at Plant Delights last year. It is the more unusual single flowered form, although I am also growing the double flowered form in a pot. Last year I planted the single flowered form near my house, but it failed to flower, perhaps because of the glare of a nearby streetlight. This plant needs short days/long nights to set flower buds, so exposure to artificial light at night can disrupt this process.
So I propagated the plant (easy to do-just take cuttings before frost and set them in water or in pots of perlite in baggies under fluorescent lights) and potted the biggest one in regular soiless mix after they rooted. I put it into the school garden and it grew rapidly. Many buds set during our very warm October. They grew ever so slowly, and finally opened just a few days before the first frost, during the first week of November. The first flower had just enough time to age from white to pink, before I cut the plant back and made numerous cuttings. Frost took care of the remaining foliage, since Confederate Rose is highly sensitive to frost. The flowers did not hold up well in water, nor did the leaves. Both tend to dry up rather fast, but the stems are already showing signs of rooting as little white nubs appear at the base of the cuttings that are in water. Had I been able to get it to flower as early in one of my home gardens, it would likely still be alright, as we have had only one light frost which was not as severe as the one at school, approximately 15 miles to the north. I-287 seems to be a dividing line in Westchester county between a much milder climate with later fall frosts and an earlier date for last spring frost to the south and a colder climate with a shorter growing season further north. This is probably due to southern Westchester's location near large bodies of water and New York City. Global climate change also appears to be lengthening our growing season as well.
Last year the Confederate Rose did not survive the winter, but I will see if it survives in its more protected location near a wall this year in the school garden. I wish someone would check out the native populations in Asia to see if forms could be found that were not so daylength sensitive--it would be wonderful to have this plant bloom in summer. The same has been done for cosmos, which used to be a fall blooming annual only, and now comes in forms that bloom all summer. The foliage of the Confederate Rose is very neat and much better looking than most other species of hibiscus, forming a perfect foil for the pretty blossoms.

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