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12. Hibiscus syriacus

Althea Rose, Rose of Sharon, Syrian Rose, Shrubby Althea

Native to temperate and warm temperate Eastern Asia, Hibiscus syriacus was apparently introduced to Asia Minor and from there found its way into European gardens. Linnaeus provided this species with the epithet syriacus, thinking it to be indigenous to the Middle East.

Erect bushy shrubs that vary from 1 to 4 m (3 12 ft) depending on the variety. The leaves are glabrous, usually tri-lobed. Flowers are solitary in the upper leaf axils on short pedicels. To 15 cm (6 in) across, the colours vary from white, light pink, reddish, purplish or bluish lavender, generally with a large crimson splash at base of petals. Numerous horticultural types with single, semi double or double blooms are known.

H. syriacus is hardy in most regions except for extremely cold climates, and even here it probably can be grown in protected situations. Surprisingly it appears to withstand the hot dry
conditions of inland districts as well as coastal conditions.

Although not as popular today as it once was, nor nearly as showy as H. rosa sinensis types, it does provide an interesting alternative to the more commonly cultivated flowering shrubs. The various cultivars provide bloom through the summer and early autumn months, a flowering period after that of most cultivated shrubs.

H. syriacus types do best in full sun in reasonably well drained but moist soils. Unless the plants are pruned hard in winter (about half), the flowers of older plants tend to be smaller. Like most hibiscus they prefer to be planted on their own or with other hibiscus, as they dislike competition from other plants.

Cultivation is the same as for the rosa sinensis types: namely plenty of summer water and food. H. syriacus attract many insects, particularly the notorious hibiscus beetle which conceals itself in the double forms and causes damage to the blooms. Regular spraying is essential during the flowering period.

H. syriacus is easily propagated by hardwood cuttings 10 - 15 cm (4 - 6 in) long taken in winter and planted about 2.5 - 3.5 cm (1 -  1 in) in a mixture of coarse river sand and peat moss, preferably under glass.

A List of the More Popular H. syriacus Cultivars

'Alba Plena' Semi double pure white with large crimson splash at base of petals. Flowers 5 - 7 cm (2 - 3 in) across. Low shrub. 1 - 1.5 m. (Plates 171, 172)
'Ardens' Semi double, soft lavender mauve with large crimson centre. Petaloids in centre slightly paler. Flowers 6 - 9 cm (3 - 4 in). Medium shrub to 3 m (10 ft). (Plate 173)
'Coelestis' Single light violet, reddish basally with reddish streaks to about the middle of petals. Flowers 5 - 7 cm (2 - 3 in). Tall shrub to 4 m (12 ft).
'Hinomaru' Single, white with traces of rose pink on reverse. Eye zone Indian lake with colour extending along veins to mid petal. Flower diameter 9 - 10 cm (4 in). Low shrub.
'Lady Stanley' Semi double, very soft pink to off white, red centre. Flower diameter 6 - 8 cm (3 in). Low shrub. (Plate 174)
'Mimihara' Semi double, white with splotches of pink on reverse of outer petals. Eye spot crimson with colour extending to mid petal along veins. Flower diameter 9 - 10 cm (4 in). Medium shrub. (Plate 175)
'Oiseau Bleu' Single gentian blue, eye spot lilac purple. Flower diameter 9 - 10 cm (4 in). Medium shrub.
'Ruber Plenus' Double reddish purple, fades rapidly in sun. Flower diameter 5 - 7 cm (2 - 3 in). Low shrub.
'Sokobeni Yae' Semi double white with splotches of red on reverse of petal. Eye spot cardinal red.
Flower diameter 8 - 10 cm (4 in). Medium shrub.
'Suminokura' Single magenta rose. Eye spot cardinal red. Flower diameter 7 - 9 cm (3 in). Low shrub.
'White Supreme' Semi double white, occasionally a few traces of tyrian rose on reverse of petals. Eye spot crimson. Flower diameter 8 - 10 cm (3 4 in). Medium shrub.
'William R. Smith' Single pure white. Flower diameter 7 8 cm (3 in). Medium shrub.
'Woodbridge' Single deep rose to reddish wine, prolific. Flower diameter 8 - 10 cm (4 in). Low shrub. (Plate 176)

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