Growing Hibiscus acetosella - A Hibiscus with Dazzling Foliage

Hibiscus 'Panama Red'
Hibiscus 'Panama Red'. Photo: © Marie iannotti

Overview and Description:

Hibiscus acetosella is a somewhat upright, shrubby plant that has recently become popular with plant breeders. It is a short-lived sub-shrub or woody perennial, grown mainly for its foliage, which can come in stunning shades of copper and burgundy that rival red maples. The flowers and leaves are edible, with a pleasant tart taste.

  • Foliage: The leaves can be ovate or lobed, but the newer varieties have been bred to have deeply lobed, finely cut leaves like Japanese maples. You’ll find shades of green with red veining through to a deep burgundy.
  • Flowers: Typical Hibiscus funnel shaped flowers in yellow and red. The flowers are incidental on Hibiscus acetosella and some of the newer cultivars don’t flower at all.
  • Form: Although Hibiscus acetosella is an upright grower, mature plants can split and flop.

Hibiscus is a large genus of over 200 shrubs, trees, annuals and perennials. Many can appear tropical and exotic with colorful, sometimes plate-sized flowers, however Hibiscus acetosella is grown for its colorful, ornamental leaves.

Botanical Name:

Hibiscus acetosella

Common Name(s):

False Roselle, African Rose Mallow

USDA Hardiness Zones:

The hardiness rating of Hibiscus acetosella depends on the variety you are growing. Most are only hardy in USDA Zones: 7 - 11, however they can be over-wintered in containers, indoors. If you do not have sufficient light to keep Hibiscus acetosella growing indoors, it will go dormant and can be tucked somewhere cool, dark, and out of the way.

Water the soil when it feels dry and move it into sunshine in early spring. It may not start sending out new growth until late spring.

Mature Size:

The size of a mature Hibiscus acetosella plant will depend on both the variety and growing conditions, but most get to about 4 ft. (h) x 4-6 ft. (w)

Exposure:

Hibiscus acetosella grows best in full sun to partial shade.

You will get the best color in full sun, but the plants can use partial shade in extremely hot, dry conditions.

Bloom Period:

There are sporadic blooms throughout summer, but the flowers are not very showy. The newer cultivars, which are bred for their foliage, tend to bloom less frequently than the species, if at all.

Design Tips:

Hibiscus acetosella makes a nice focal point, where a Japanese maple might be too large. They combine strikingly with chartreuse plants as well as with softer shades of pink and white. Some of the smaller cultivars make excellent potted plants and can be overwintered in a greenhouse.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Hibiscus 'Red Shield' (syn. ‘Coppertone’) - Iridescent maroon leaves and stems with deep red flowers. (3-4' (h) x 4-6' (w) / Zones 8 - 11)

     

  • Hibiscus ‘Panama Red’ - Dark plum foliage and leaves. Bred specifically for hot-humid conditions. Sporadic red flowers. (4' (h) x 4-6' (w) / Zones 9 - 11)

     

  • Hibiscus ‘Panama Bronze’ - Dark green leaves tinged with bronze. Color is more intense in full sun. Also bred specifically for hot-humid conditions. Sporadic red flowers. (4' (h) x 4-6' / Zones 9 - 11)

     

  • Hibiscus 'Garden Leader Gro Big Red' - Deep red leaves, burgundy flowers. (5' (h) x 5-6' (w) / Zones 8 -10)

Growing Tips:

Hibiscus acetosella are fairly low maintenance plants. Their biggest need is water. Keep the plants moist, but don’t allow them to sit in wet soil. Container plants may need daily watering, so position them near the hose. If allowed to dry out for long periods, Hibiscus acetosella will drop its beautiful leaves.

Fertilize monthly to bi-monthly during the summer, with any balanced fertilizer. Don’t over-feed container plants, unless you have a larger container to move them to.

Pruning is not required, but can be done to shape or control the size of your plant. Branches that grow fast and long will tend to arch and open the center of the plant. Some pruning helps this Hibiscus to maintain a bushy shape. Wind can also take its toll on long branches and tatter the leaves.

Overwinter indoors, where Hibiscus acetosella is not hardy. You can also take small cuttings in the fall, to overwinter for next spring.

Problems & Pests:

Hibiscus acetosella is fairly problem free, although Japanese Beetles will skeletonize the leaves.