Rose of Sharon "trees" (Hibiscus syriacus) are actually classified by botanists as shrubs, but they can be trained by pruning so as to form one main trunk (thereby becoming tree-like). They are beautiful plants (see pictures below) and especially useful to gardeners seeking continual color in the landscape, as they bloom late in the growing season -- when most shrubs are long past their floral heyday. Plant Hibiscus syriacus as a complement to shrubs that bloom in spring and early summer.
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Blue flowers are highly sought after; this soothing color lends itself well to meditation gardens, although many people simply value it as a "cool" color. Plant developers have put a great deal of energy into expanding the horticultural blue palette. I wish I could say that Blue Chiffon rose of Sharon trees produce true-blue flowers, but the most I will grant them is a "bluish" color (check out the picture; you will probably come to the same conclusion). Still, because the flowers are double (another sought-after quality), their beauty is unquestionable.
Blue Chiffon blooms from mid-summer into autumn. What makes the flower so beautiful is the presence of inner petals that surround the stamen. These inner petals give the flowers a frilly look.
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Like "Blue Chiffon," the variety known as "Sugar Tip" bears double flowers -- in this case, pink in color. But with Sugar Tip rose of Sharon trees, it is not just about the flowers. Their foliage is also attractive, as these plants exhibit variegated leaves. The leaves have a creamy white edging, as shown in the picture. In fact, it is to the leaves that the name "Sugar Tip" refers.
This variety is a nice addition to the Hibiscus syriacus repertoire. Most varieties are valued mainly for their flowers. But do not underestimate the importance of attractive foliage. Such "foliage plants" will "be there for you," after many a garden bloom has become little more than a memory.
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Some may take rose of Sharon for granted, but, without it, many a yard in the North would be much the poorer. Rose of Sharon tree seedlings are a nuisance, but the trees more than make up for any maintenance they require with a superabundance of showy blossoms (pink, as in this picture, being the most common color) that appear just when many yards most need them -- the latter half of summer.
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The Names, "Rose of Sharon," "Althea"
"Althea" is another of the plant's common names. Althaea, the mallow genus, bears flowers similar to those on Hibiscus syriacus.
Rose of Sharon was once thought be indigenous to Syria, thus the origin of the syriacus part of the botanical name. Botanists subsequently learned that this is actually one of our many plants from China but have retained the misleading specific epithet.
The name, "rose of Sharon" can be traced back to Song of Solomon 2:1 in the Bible. But while the selection of this name may have been influenced by the mistaken belief in its Middle-Eastern roots, it is no longer thought that the plant mentioned in the Bible was Hibiscus syriacus.
Incidentally, note how much bluer the Blue Satin shrub's flower is in this picture is than the Blue Chiffon flower pictured earlier. But do not get your hopes up too high: This type, along with Blue Bird, too often turns out to be more of a lavender-blue than a true blue. Until developers produce a reliably true-blue rose of Sharon, gardeners are at the mercy of the luck of the draw.