Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)

While working at the Master Gardener office, I noticed a lone shrub scrabbling along the building’s foundation. To my Northern eye it looked like Japanese Maple, but then i saw the telltale flower of Cranberry Hibiscus, aka Hibiscus acetosella.

Hibiscus acetosella flower and leaf, January 2015

H. acetosella is a fast growing, hardy perennial in zones 8-11, reaching 3-5′ tall and 30″ wide the first year. The foliage is usually green to deep burgundy with 3-5 lobes and a jagged edge. It suckers and thickens quickly, and is best pruned around 3′ to encourage branching and a fuller appearance.  A wonderful winter bloomer, it contrasts nicely with light green or chartreuse tropical plants.

Hibisicus acetosella branch and buds, January 2015

This one needs pruning!

Cranberry hibiscus is thought to be a natural hybrid of H.asper and H.surattensis, two varieties originally cultivated for food in the southern DR Congo-Angola-Zambia region of Africa.  All three have edible, tart shoots and leaves that chop easily for salads, but only H. acetosella retains its leaf color when stir fried or boiled as a spinach type side dish.

Hibiscus acetosella woody stem going to seed

The flowers mature to shiny and showy burgundy pod-fruit-flower like complexities (actually, it’s the calyx that’s providing most of the show) used world-wide in warm-climate cuisine for tea and jam.

Hibiscus acetosella flowering twig

If allowed to grow too tall, the woody stems will bend and break, so pinch, pinch, pinch for a more compact, prettier shrub.

As a side note, Gardenfest Weekend is here!  Can’t wait to show you all the beautiful booths and plants!

Until next time…

🙂 🙂 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)

  1. I order Agua de Jamaica when I’m at a Mexican restaurant… I wonder if this is the variety of hibiscus they use for that drink.

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