How to Grow Hibiscus Mutabilis

Hibiscus mutabilis with white and pink petals

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With its bright green foliage and showy flowers, the hibiscus mutabilis is a large shrub (or multi-stemmed tree) that is known for its unique color-changing effect--its flowers open as white but rapidly change colors.

It leaves will drop in the winter and return in the summer as softly hairy with a coarse texture that helps gives this plant its unique, eye-catching appearance. Flowers in three distinctive colors will appear on the shrub at the same time.

One of this plant’s common names, rose cotton, is a result of its round, hairy capsule that dries and releases fuzzy seeds. Some of its other monikers include confederate rose, dixie rosemallow, and cotton rosemallow. It was originally native to Southeastern China and nearby countries but is now found on all continents (with the exception of Antarctica).

A member of the Malvaceae family, the hibiscus mutabilis flowers will typically change color over a three-day period; they first appear deep pink, but then as they die, they take on a darker hue. The color change effect can happen very quickly—white flowers can emerge in the morning and then transform to hot pink or even red by that same evening. They can be found as both single and double-flowered varieties, with blossoms that can range from three to five inches across.

Botanical Name Hibiscus Mutabilis
Common Name Cotton Rose
Plant Type Deciduous shrub/tree
Mature Size 6-15 feet tall; 6-10 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Loamy, high organic matter
Soil pH 5-6.5
Bloom Time Late Summer/Early Fall
Flower Color White, pink, red
Hardiness Zones 7-11
Native Area China

Hibiscus Mutabilis Care

When the hibiscus mutabilis is in bloom, it remains a popular choice at garden centers due to its unusual and captivating beauty as a flowering tree. It’s ideal as a specimen plant, but can also be cultivated as part of a mixed shrub border or as a flowering shrub for foundation plantings. 

Gardeners appreciate the fact that the hibiscus mutabilis can add a pop of color (and a little bit of charm) to the garden even late in the season, as many other plants are already starting to hibernate for the winter.

It can be planted as either a large spreading shrub or small multi-stemmed tree, both of which will have huge flowers. Either way, this plant will have a very fast rate of growth.

The hibiscus mutabilis is considered to be low-maintenance but is susceptible to scale insects, mealybugs, aphids and powdery mildew. They are, however, considered to be a deer resistant plant.

Light

The hibiscus mutabilis will grow best when exposed to full sun, but part shade can also be tolerated.

Water

You'll want to water your hibiscus mutabilis tree or shrub freely during its growing season, but water sparingly in the winter months. These plants are considered drought tolerant.

Soil

This low-maintenance plant will grow in average, medium, and well-drained soils, however, it does prefer loamy types that are rich in organic matter. It will grow best in neutral or slightly acidic soil.

Temperature and Humidity

The hibiscus mutabilis is not a particularly cold-hardy plant; it can tolerate short periods with temperatures falling to about 23 degrees Fahrenheit when fully dormant. Its top growth will be killed by even slight frost, however, its roots are somewhat hardier. It's even possible for the plant to resprout after a few degrees of frost.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer can be applied monthly; just be sure to choose a balanced, liquid variety.

Propagating Hibiscus Mutabilis

The hibiscus mutabilis can be propagated by cuttings that root easily. You’ll want to propagate by seeds sown in spring or semi-ripe cuttings in the summer months.

Related Varieties of Hibiscus

These hibiscus varieties share similar care requirements with the cotton rose, but offer something a little different in terms of bloom shades and shapes.

  • Blue Bird: Produces a stunning blue shade of flowers; grows 3-4 feet tall when planted in full sun
  • Rose of Sharon: Blooms from late summer to mid-fall in colors including purple, white, and violet colors with sharp, oval-shaped leaves
  • China Rose: A shrub that's used for shoe polishing in the tropics; produces red flowers along with orange, pink, yellow single, and double-petaled blossoms.
  • Perfect Storm: Big, bi-colored flowers with reddish-pink centers; foliage becomes a very dark purple (can almost appear black)

Pruning

You’ll want to prune this plant in the winter after it has bloomed. It can tolerate severe pruning—in fact, doing so will actually help rejuvenate leggy plants. Overall, minimal pruning is required.