Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)



The common hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is an evergreen shrub belonging to the cotton family Malvaceae which comprises about 300 species.

Origins and distribution
The exact origin of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is unknown, although it has been cultivated in China, Japan and the Pacific islands for a long time. Two white-flowered species, Hibiscus arnottianus and Hibiscus waimeae, are believed to be native to Hawaii.2


There are around 300 related species of hibiscus found throughout the tropics. Hybrid hibiscus flowers are today available in pink, yellow, orange, purple, lavender and even multi-colour.3 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the national flower of Malaysia.4

Description
The hibiscus is an evergreen shrub, growing to a maximum of 10 m in the wild. Its bark is light-grey, easy to peel and smooth.5

Leaves
Hibiscus leaves are ovate, simple and 8 to 10.5 cm long. They are spirally arranged around a long stalk.6

Flower
Flowers are bisexual, large and showy, grow up to 25 cm wide, stalked and arising singly from the upper leaf axils. The five free petals joined at the base may be white, yellow or red in nature. Sepals are joined in a five-lobed cup with an epicalyx of five to seven lobes. The superior ovary has five stigmas with a long style. The plant flowers perennially.7

Fruit
The ovoid fruit has up to 20 seeds, is beaked and splits into five parts.8

Uses and potential
Food
A juice-drink made of hibiscus flowers was developed and jointly marketed by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, Universiti Malaya and Terengganu government.9

Medicine
In Malay traditional healing, a decoction of hibiscus roots was offered for the relief of venereal diseases and fever. Also made into a decoction, the white and red flowers were drunk as an antidote for poison. The juice of the white flower was given to those suffering from seriawan, an ailment symptomatically similar to thrush, sprue or diphtheria. An infusion of the flowers was used as an expectorant for bronchitis and, after it was exposed to dew overnight, used to treat gonorrhoea. Its leaves were applied to boils and as poultices to provide relief from headaches and swellings. A preparation from the roots was used as eye-drops for sore eyes.10

Other uses

The juice of the hibiscus petals and flowers was used as a dye by the Chinese and Indians to blacken eyebrows and hair. This use of the hibiscus was passed on to the Arabs and Portuguese. Malays used the flowers in exorcism for epidemics and diseases.11 In Jamaica, hibiscus juice was used to polish shoes, hence the name, shoe flower. Hibiscus flowers are worn by women in the Pacific islands to reflect their single status.12

Variant names
Malay name: Bunga Raya, Kembang Sepatu, Bebaru, Bunga Pepulut (Malaysia), Pucuk (Indonesia).
Another common name: Shoe flower.13



Author
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References 
1. Chin, H. F. (1986). Introduction. In The hibiscus: Queen of tropical flowers. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, pp. 2–3. (Call no.: RCLOS 635.93317 CHI)
2. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: A selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
3. Chin, H. F. (1986). Introduction. In The hibiscus: Queen of tropical flowers. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, p. 64. (Call no.: RCLOS 635.93317 CHI)
4. Ewe, P. L. (2016, August 15). Our national flower. Retrieved April 4, 2018, from the New Straits Times website: https://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/08/168254/our-national-flower
5. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: A selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
6. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: A selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
7. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: A selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
8. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: A selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
9. Hibiscus drink likely to hit market next year. (1992, September 27). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 1188. (Call no.: RSING 634.909595 BUR)
11. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, pp. 1188–1189. (Call no.: RSING 634.909595 BUR)
12. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: A selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
13. Warren, W. (1996). Tropical flowers of Malaysia & Singapore. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 581.95957 WAR)



Further resource
Chin, H. F. (1986). The hibiscus: Queen of tropical flowers. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press.

(Call no.: R 635.93317 CHI)



The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Hibiscus--Singapore
Science and technology>>Agriculture>>Horticulture>>Flowers and ornamental plants
Plants
Nature>>Plants