Everything You Need to Know About Hibiscus Flower Meaning, Symbolism, History, Origins and Cultural Significance

Perhaps no other flower offers such a sense of the dramatic as the hibiscus. This lush bloom brings a colorful splash to the garden, with its large, brilliant petals and protruding, pollen-tipped stalks. Sometimes known as the rose mallow or rose of Sharon, hibiscus flowers grow in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates around the world, from Haiti to Hawaii, India to Illinois. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Hibiscus Flower Meaning and Symbolism, including their origins & history; uses & benefits; cultural meaning & significance around the world; the symbolic message of each common Hydrangea flower color; as well as sharing our recommendations on when to gift hibiscus flowers and how to make cut hibiscus flowers last as long as possible. Let’s go!


Hibiscus Flower Meaning – The Essentials

Hibiscus grow as perennials or annuals in climates ranging from tropical to temperate. These popular ornamental plants flower in a rainbow of colorful blooms, many of which are imbued with meaning. Prized in cultures around the world, short-lived but dramatic hibiscus flowers may symbolize youth, beauty, success, glory, or femininity.


The Hibiscus Flower

The Hibiscus Flower

Hibiscus belongs to the Malvaceae or mallow family, which contains almost 300 species. Depending on climate and variety, hibiscus may grow as perennials or annual shrubs, or evergreen or deciduous trees.

Smaller varieties may grow only a few feet tall, but larger trees may reach heights of 15 feet. All feature beautiful, dramatic flowers; plants bloom when temperatures are warm. In temperate climates, this usually means June through fall. Often, blossoms last for just one day.

Flowers bloom in a virtual rainbow of colors, from red to purple to bicolor and everything in between (except green). Depending on variety, flower size may reach up to 12 inches across. Flowers are funnel-, trumpet- or dinner-plate shaped, with at least five petals and an erect center stalk.

Hibiscus foliage also varies depending on species. Colors may be gray-green or have a red tinge, and be heart-shaped or more like a lobed maple leaf.

Most ornamental hibiscus falls into one of two types: Tropical or hardy. The tropical hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis) is often seen in landscapes and is commonly available in garden centers. This plant requires protection over the winter unless it’s grown in a warm, tropical climate such as USDA Zone 9b and above.

Hibiscus Flower Hardiness Zones

Hardy hibiscus may be grown in USDA Zones 4-9 with winter protection. These may include the rose of Sharon (H. syriacus), scarlet rosemallow (H. coccineus), swamp rosemallow (H. grandiflorus), halberdleaf rosemallow (H. laevis), crimsoneyed rosemallow (H. moscheutos), and comfortroot (H. aculeatus).

Pollinators love hibiscus flowers. They’re especially attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

History & Origins of the Hibiscus Flower

Hibiscus are found in many regions around the world. Though exact origins are unclear, many believe H. rosa-sinensis to be native to Asia. Several types of hardy hibiscus are native to North America, including the southeastern United States. H. syriacus is believed to be native to China and India, but is also naturalized across southern regions of Europe.

Many of the ornamental hibiscus found in landscaping and garden centers today stem from cultivars and hybrids of H. rosa-sinensis.

Etymological Meaning

The term “hibiscus” comes from the Greek hibiskos or mallow. Some posit that an ancient botanist named Pedanius Dioscorides originated the term.

Uses and Benefits of Hibiscus Flowers

Uses and Benefits of Hibiscus Flowers

Several cultures use the hibiscus flower as an edible delicacy. In many parts of the world, blooms from the hibiscus commonly known as roselle (H. sabdariffa) are used to make a hot or cold tea. In West Africa, the red, tart drink is known as bissapIt’s called aqua de jamaica in Mexico and Central America, sorrel in the Caribbean, orhul in India, karkade in Egypt, and gul e khatmi in Iran.

Cambodians steep flowers in hot water, add sugar and lime juice and serve the beverage over ice. In Mexico, dried flowers are considered an edible delicacy. In the Philippines, hibiscus is used to make vegetable dishes taste tart.

Medicinal Benefits

Hibiscus flowers and foliage also have a number of medicinal uses. Several cultures use leaves, calyces, and petals to make a medicinal mixture known as sour tea. Some say the flavor of sour tea is similar to that of cranberry juice.

Egyptian traditional medicine uses sour tea to treat cardiovascular and nerve disorders, as a diuretic, and to reduce body temperature. In some parts of Africa, sour tea is used as a cure for the common cold and to treat cancer, liver disease, and constipation. Pulped leaves are also used to speed wound healing. In some cultures, hibiscus is used as part of a treatment for head lice.

In Iran, sour tea has long been used to lower blood pressure. Modern scientific studies back up the practice; research indicates that sour tea and hibiscus extract have the potential to treat high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

Studies also indicate that hibiscus contains anthocyanins, which may fight cancer. Other research suggests that hibiscus may be used as a weight-loss aid. Studies indicate that the plant affects metabolism, helping to reduce fat build-up in the liver, help prevent weight gain, and lower cholesterol levels.


Hibiscus Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Hibiscus grow in a range of colors. Many are associated with specific meanings or imbued with symbolism.

White Hibiscus Flower Meaning

Whie Hibiscus Flower Meaning

White hibiscus flowers are associated with purity. In some cultures, this translates into an association with women, femininity and innocence. Other cultures associate white blooms with beauty.


Yellow Hibiscus Flower Meaning

Yellow Hibiscus Flower Meaning

Yellow hibiscus blossoms are often associated with fortune and good luck. Happiness and sunshine are other meanings often attributed to yellow hibiscus flowers.


Red Hibiscus Flower Meaning

Red Hibiscus Flower Meaning

As with red roses, red hibiscus flower meaning is often associated with passion. It’s often used to symbolize romance and love.


Purple Hibiscus Flower Meaning

Purple Hibiscus Flower Meaning

The purple hibiscus flower meaning is linked to knowledge and wisdom. Purple blooms may also be associated with mystery.

In some cultures, purple flowers are used to symbolize high class or royalty. They may be used to express the idea of worth or value, especially that of an individual.


Pink Hibiscus Flower Meaning

Pink Hibiscus Flower Meaning

Pink hibiscus blossoms often symbolize friendship and various types of love, such as platonic or familial. Giving someone a pink hibiscus flower is a way to express that you care about them.


The Meaning & Symbolism of Hibiscus Flowers in Hawaiian Culture

Hibiscus Flower Meaning in Hawaii

For residents of the Hawaiian Islands, hibiscus flowers have many special cultural meanings and uses. In fact, H. brackenridgeia, a yellow species endemic to the Islands, is the state flower. Known as ma’o hau hele, Native Hawaiians used the plant for a number of purposes.

Hibiscus bark was used to make cords to secure outrigger canoes, create sandal straps, and for sewing clothing. Flowers were used as a treatment for stomach ailments, while hibiscus wood was used to create charcoal for cooking and heating.

Hibiscus blossoms also have ornamental uses in Hawaiian culture. Flowers placed in the hair are a sign of beauty. Depending on which ear they’re tucked behind, they may symbolize the wearer’s availability for a romantic relationship.

Leis featuring hibiscus blooms are also prized, though the blooms are notoriously short-lived.

As for symbolism, the flowers are often used to represent hospitality. Sometimes, they also symbolize power and respect.


Hibiscus Flowers in Greek Mythology

Hibiscus Flower Meaning in Greek Mythology

Hibiscus flowers play a role in Greek mythology. The story of attraction and drama between the god Adonis and the goddess Aphrodite involves symbolism tied to the hibiscus blossom.

In some stories, Adonis turns into a hibiscus flower in order to stop Aphrodite from arguing with the goddess Persephone. In other variations of the tale, Aphrodite turns Adonis into an anemone flower; he’s then reborn as a handsome god.


Hibiscus Flowers in Ancient Egypt

Several cultures use hibiscus tea to boost mood. But the ancient Egyptians took it a step further; they believed that the flower was an aphrodisiac and used it to arouse licentious moods. As a result, unmarried women weren’t allowed to drink hibiscus tea.


Hibiscus Flowers in Hinduism

Hibiscus Flower Meaning in Hinduism

In Hinduism, the red hibiscus blossom belongs to the goddess Kali, and sometimes may represent her tongue. The flowers feature prominently in art that depicts Kali, especially from the Bengal region. Often, Kali is shown merging into a hibiscus blossom.

Another deity, Lord Ganesha, is also associated with hibiscus. Ganesha is believed to prize the flowers for their ability to take consciousness to a divine level. Hindus may present hibiscus flowers when making offerings to Kali and Ganesha.


Hibiscus flowers in Chinese Culture

In China, hibiscus flower meaning often is associated with personal power, fame, and glory. The blossoms may also be associated with wealth.

Both men and women can give and receive hibiscus flowers. A gift of a hibiscus may indicate that the gifter admires the giftee, or that they wish them glory and success.


Hibiscus Flowers in Malaysia

Hibiscus Flower Meaning in Malaysia

The hibiscus is Malaysia’s national flower, where it’s known as bunya raya or “big flower”. Here, it’s a symbol of the country’s national philosophy, known as Rukun Negara.

The flower’s five red petals represent the inclusion of diverse races and ethnic groups. The hibiscus stands for unity, an important part of Malaysia’s national character.


Hibiscus Flowers in Haiti

The hibiscus is prized by Haitians; while it’s not their official national flower, it’s largely been adopted as their national symbol. In Haiti, the hibiscus has many uses. Plant extract is thought to have antiviral qualities and is used to boost immune response and regulate cholesterol.

Hibiscus is consumed as a health drink. It’s also used as an ingredient in many products, from shoe polish to fabric dye.


Hibiscus Flowers in Victorian Times

Hibisucs Flower Meaning in Victorian Times

In mid- to late 1800s England, the hibiscus was a symbol of womanhood. Specifically, the flowers represented a certain style of delicate feminine beauty that was desirable at the time. Presenting a woman with a hibiscus flower was an acknowledgement of her delicate, beautiful nature.


Popularity of Hibiscus Flowers as a Floral Symbol in Tattoos

Today, the hibiscus flower is a popular tattoo choice. For some, it may represent respect for Hawaiian culture. For others, the flower represents love, friendship, power, or success.


Suitable Gifting Occasions for Hibiscus Flowers

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Hibiscus Flowers

Hibiscus plants make a wonderful gift for anyone who appreciates bright flowers and a lush, tropical look. Red flowering plants make a great gift as a gesture of romantic love or passion, while pink flowers represent non-romantic love.

To wish someone success or cheer, yellow flowering hibiscus is a good choice. A gift of white blooms may be taken as a compliment on someone’s physical beauty.


Hibiscus Cut Flower Care

Hibiscus Cut Flower Care Tips

Unlike many other cut flowers, hibiscus blossoms don’t require water to stay fresh. Picked flowers usually stay open for seven to 12 hours, regardless of treatment. However, the cut blooms of certain varieties may last for up to two days, including ‘Gina Marie’ and ‘The Path’.

If you want fresh flowers for a party, pick blooms before they’re fully open. Store the flowers in the refrigerator until about an hour before you want to display them.


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Hibiscus Flower FAQ:

Several cultures use the hibiscus flower as an edible delicacy. In many parts of the world, blooms from the hibiscus commonly known as roselle (H. sabdariffa) are used to make a hot or cold tea. In West Africa, the red, tart drink is known as bissapIt’s called aqua de jamaica in Mexico and Central America, sorrel in the Caribbean, orhul in India, karkade in Egypt, and gul e khatmi in Iran.

The term “hibiscus” comes from the Greek hibiskos or mallow. Some posit that an ancient botanist named Pedanius Dioscorides originated the term. Prized in cultures around the world, short-lived but dramatic hibiscus flowers may symbolize youth, beauty, success, glory, or femininity.

Flowers bloom in a virtual rainbow of colors, from red to purple to bicolor and everything in between (except green). Depending on variety, flower size may reach up to 12 inches across. Flowers are funnel-, trumpet- or dinner-plate shaped, with at least five petals and an erect center stalk.

Hibiscus belongs to the Malvaceae or mallow family, which contains almost 300 species. Depending on climate and variety, hibiscus may grow as perennials or annual shrubs, or evergreen or deciduous trees.

As with red roses, red hibiscus flower meaning is often associated with passion. It’s often used to symbolize romance and love.

Pink hibiscus blossoms often symbolize friendship and various types of love, such as platonic or familial. Giving someone a pink hibiscus flower is a way to express that you care about them.

White hibiscus flowers are associated with purity. In some cultures, this translates into an association with women, femininity and innocence. Other cultures associate white blooms with beauty.

The purple hibiscus flower meaning is linked to knowledge and wisdom. Purple blooms may also be associated with mystery.

In some cultures, purple flowers are used to symbolize high class or royalty. They may be used to express the idea of worth or value, especially that of an individual.

Yellow hibiscus blossoms are often associated with fortune and good luck. Happiness and sunshine are other meanings often attributed to yellow hibiscus flowers.


Author

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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