Sleepy Florida Hibiscus

The star of our field trip to the Indian River Lagoon Greenway on 8/11/2018 undoubtedly was the lovely lindenleaf rosemallow (Hibiscus furcellatus) pictured above.  Also known as sleepy hibiscus, this member of the mallow family, Malvaceae, is native to the southeast coast of Florida from Brevard County to Broward County (with an outlier in Highlands County on the Florida Plant Atlas range map).  This tropical plant also grows in south America, central America, Mexico, the West Indies, and Hawaii (another outlier?).  Though a tropical plant, it reportedly is much more common in the northern reaches of its Florida range, where it may die back to the ground in cooler winters.

Its species name, furcellatus, means forked and refers to a distinctive characteristic of its floral structure shown below and described most simply by Dr. George Rogers,  as “in reference to the forked ‘antlers’ at the flower base”.  He is the Botany Department Chair at Palm Beach State College and led a wonderful botany walk and talk for our group on 11/18/17.  Click here to read his entertaining blog post about this plant.

Botany often is about vocabulary …  The species name means “minutely or shallowly forked in reference to the calyx lobes”, according to Dr. Richard Wunderlin, the University of South Florida botany professor who instigated the Florida Plant Atlas.  Noted Florida naturalist and author of a newish book titled of Central Florida Wildflowers:  A Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Lake Wales Ridge, Ocala National Forest, Disney Wilderness Preserve and More than 60 State Parks and Preserves, Roger Hammer say that the species name “refers to the notched apex on the involucral bracts”.  Forked antlers at the flower base says it best for me.

The solitary flowers of this native hibiscus never fully open and are are referred to as nodding or “sleepy”.  They are pinkish purple with a dark maroon-ish throat.  The stigmas are dark maroon, too.

Bees and hummingbirds pollinate the plant.  At least one website says that it is does not attract butterflies, but the tiny butterfly in this picture apparently did read that post.

Its soft hairy leaves are 2 – 5″ in size and often (but not always) are shallowly 3-lobed like those of a linden tree (Tilia spp.), giving rise to the common name listed by the Florida Plant Atlas.

Lindenleaf rosemallow grows to be 5 – 6′ tall and can be wider than tall.  It grows in moist places including freshwater swamps, marshes, flatwoods, and roadside ditches.  At the Indian River Lagoon Greenway, we saw quite a few plants in an area from which invasive Australian pines (Casuarina sp.) had been cleared, according to our guide Diane Morgan shown below at the start of the walk with her beautiful bloodhound Gwen and the rest of the walk participants.

Lovely lindenleaf rosemallow looks different than the native hibiscus that we know from the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA), the Virginia salt marsh mallow (Kosteletzyka pentacarpos), shown below with its pink and open flowers that are shaped much like those of the widely cultivated exotic ornamental hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.

Yes, Virginia, there are nice native hibiscus!