Hibiscus adds tropical beauty to Chicago-area gardens

Surprise! What are those spectacular pink, red and white flowers, the size of salad plates, unfolding in the late summer garden? Don’t they belong on a balmy Pacific island?

Those are the blooms of rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). “It gives your yard a tropical air,” says Joseph Rothleutner, tree and shrub breeder at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. To complete the Tiki illusion, he says, try combining rose mallow with plants that have large leaves, such as hostas, or palmlike foliage, such as Prairie Flame shining sumac or Tiger Eyes cutleaf staghorn sumac.

Exotic looking as it is, rose mallow is hardy in Chicago. In fact, it’s a native plant, growing in wetlands in the eastern United States and north into Canada. (That’s why it tolerates even wet soil in the garden.) Today, there are many cultivars of H. moscheutosand hardy hibiscus hybrids that include it in their ancestry.