Luna hibiscus a Louisiana Super Plant

Luna hibiscus with Cora vinca. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Luna hibiscus with Cora vinca. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Hibiscus are a large family of plants. The hibiscus family includes okra, cotton, tropical hibiscus, althea (rose of Sharon), rose mallow hibiscus and much more. It is a large group and many of these have great ornamental potential in the landscape.

The LSU AgCenter has completed one year of evaluating trial over 40 cultivars of hardy hibiscus, primarily Hibiscus moscheutos, at the Hammond Research Station. These are what we typically refer to as the dinner plate hibiscus or sometimes go by the old variety name, Disco Belle. The Louisiana Society for Horticultural Research based in Lafayette is partially funding this effort.

The project includes a field planting of cultivars from the hibiscus breeding program at Walters Gardens. Some of their hibiscus are in the Summerific Hibiscus program at Proven Winners. These include varieties such as Berrylicous, My Valentine, Pink Elephant, Jazzberry Jam, Party Favor, Midnight Marvel, Cranberry Crush, Tie Dye, Summer Storm, and Sultry Kiss.

In addition, four colors in the Luna seeded line of perennial type hibiscus from PanAmerican Seed are being studied. The Luna series has been on the market for a number of years now and provides growers with a seed source option, as opposed to the majority of plant material in this group being available only via vegetative propagation. Flower colors include red, rose, white, pink and pink swirl.

The Luna series hibiscus has proven to be such a great landscape performer that it is the last of the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Super Plant selections for spring 2014.

Seven to eight inch flowers on dwarf, compact growing plants are characteristic of Luna hibiscus. Plants reach heights of only 36 inches with a similar spread. Luna hibiscus perform best in full sun and start blooming in late spring and will continue til mid-September. These are well adapted to a wide range of soil types and drainage is not important.

What is important in determining the most suited hardy hibiscus for landscape performance in Louisiana? Date of first bloom, length of bloom, length of peak bloom, plant height, flower diameter, susceptibility to saw fly larvae damage and more data is being regularly collected. Some of the plants in our LSU AgCenter trial are also being evaluated by horticulturist Geoff Denny at Mississippi State University in Starkville.

A companion study that is for demonstration purposes only includes over twenty of the newest hardy hibiscus from Fleming Flower Fields. These plants are known for the first reddish and purple foliage colors, maple, palm and hydrangea leaf shaped foliage and improved compactness.

The LSU AgCenter is also evaluating other hibiscus and hibiscus relatives in research efforts. The Hibiscus acetosella, commonly referred to as false roselle and African rose mallow, are great foliage plants for the summer and fall landscape. When planted. in the spring, plants can easily reach heights of 5 feet or more by fall. Prune every month or so for the first couple months after planting to produce a bushy, slightly more compact plant. There are several varieties on the market – these include Maple Sugar, Panama Red, Haight Ashbury, Mahogany Splendor and Red Shield. There is also a new variety that has been released by the USDA-ARS called Sahara Sunset.

Plants need full sun. They have great drought tolerance. Minimum irrigation is needed. Plants have upright growth forms. Space plants a minimum of 3 feet apart when planting. Plants are deer resistant.

New tropical hibiscus, such as the Tradewinds series and the HibisKISS group are exciting new additions to these great plants that love the Louisiana climate. Many home gardeners in Louisiana continue also to enjoy the Cajun group of tropical hibiscus that are marketed wholesale in Louisiana by Dupont Nursery in Plaquemine. Also, althea (rose of Sharon) is a perennial shrub hibiscus relative that is an old garden plant with renewed interest.

So, we have barely covered just a few of the ornamental plants in the hibiscus family. Try some of these this summer, especially the Luna series hardy hibiscus. These will perform great for you and will be attention getters in the landscape.

Luna hibiscus. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Luna hibiscus. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

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