The Hibiscus Handbook: Exploring Types, Species, and Varieties

Hibiscus plants come in various types, such as annual, perennial, tropical, and hardy hibiscus. In this article, I’ll run through everything you need to know about the different hibiscus types, species, and varieties.

Hibiscus Types, Species, and Varieties_ A Definitive Guide

About Hibiscus Plant Types

The Hibiscus genus contains hundreds of individual species that belong to the mallow family (Malvaceae). Hibiscus plants grow around the world in warm temperate or tropical climates.

All hibiscus plants are broadly divided into two main types; hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus. Hardy hibiscus tolerates colder temperatures in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Tropical hibiscus requires warm temperatures in Zones 9 to 12.

Although tropical and hardy hibiscus are the two main types, hibiscus plants can be further divided into more specific types. These types include native hibiscus, Rose of Sharon or shrub hibiscus, and hibiscus hybrids. 

Are Hibiscus Annuals or Perennials?

Pink hibiscus flowers in bloom

There is some confusion as to whether hibiscus plants are annuals or perennials. However, almost all hibiscus plants are perennials when grown in their preferred climates. Growing hibiscus plants outside their preferred climates can turn them into annuals rather than perennials.

For example, tropical hibiscus plants grown outside Zone 9 behave as annuals rather than perennials. These flowers cannot tolerate cold temperatures below 40ºF. If exposed to the cold, tropical hibiscus plants will only live for one year, so they can be grown as annuals. 


Hardy Hibiscus

Hardy Hibiscus

General Overview

Hardy hibiscus plants grow as perennials in Zones 4 to 9. As such, hardy hibiscus varieties are cold-hardy plants that can tolerate winter temperatures down to -30ºF. The most common types of hardy hibiscus are Hibiscus moscheutos or Hibiscus syriacus.

Botanical Characteristics

Hardy hibiscus plants are deciduous, meaning they die back in winter before regrowing in spring. Hardy hibiscus plants bloom during the summer and have large red, pink, or white flowers that only last for one day. 

Native Range

Many hardy hibiscus species are native to temperate regions in eastern Asia, such as China and Korea. Other hardy hibiscus species grow in the southeastern United States.

Essential Growing Tips

Growing Zones:4 to 9
Sunlight Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Requirements:Fertile, well-draining soil
Water Needs:Once or twice a week
Fertilizer Needs:Every 1 to 2 weeks
Pruning:Unnecessary
Pests:Aphids, Japanese beetles, scale insects
Winter Care:Will survive winter outside in Zones 4 to 11
Easy to Grow:Yes
  • Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis)
  • Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Luna Pink Swirl’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Marina’
  • Swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
  • Rock hibiscus (Hibiscus denudatus)

Tropical Hibiscus

Tropical Hibiscus

General Overview

Tropical hibiscus flowers are evergreen perennials in Zones 9 to 12 but grow as annuals in colder climates. These types of hibiscus plants cannot tolerate winter temperatures that drop below 40 to 50ºF. Many tropical hibiscus plants are also hybrids.

Botanical Characteristics

Tropical hibiscus plants have large, showy blooms that can be orange, red, yellow, white, and shades of pink. Some also display double flowers, whereas hardy hibiscus species only have single blooms. In tropical climates, these plants remain evergreen throughout the year and can flower all year round.

Native Range

Tropical hibiscus species are native to tropical regions in East Asia, such as China, Japan, and Korea. Some types of tropical hibiscus plants are native to parts of Africa, Australia, and the Pacific, including Hawaii.

Essential Growing Tips

Growing Zones:9 to 12
Sunlight Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Requirements:Rich, moist, well-draining soils
Water Needs:Once or twice a week
Fertilizer Needs:Every 1 to 2 weeks
Pruning:Lightly prune in the fall
Pests:Aphids, Japanese beetles, scale insects
Winter Care:Bring indoors overwinter
Easy to Grow:Easy to grow in Zones 9 to 12. Difficult to grow in colder areas
  • Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Brilliant’
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Fiji Island’
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Magic Moment’
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Mango Liqueur’
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Palm Springs’
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Simple Pleasures’
  • Madagascar hibiscus (Hibiscus grandidieri)
  • Sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus)
  • Yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei)

Native Hibiscus

Native Hibiscus

General Overview

Native hibiscus plants are hibiscus species that are native to the United States. Many types of native hibiscus species are hardy hibiscus, although a few species in Florida are tropical hibiscus.

Botanical Characteristics

Native hibiscus plants have large, colorful flowers similar to hollyhocks. Hardy native hibiscus species are deciduous and die back during the winter. In suitable climates, tropical native hibiscus plants remain evergreen throughout the year.

Native Range

Most native hibiscus species are native to the southeastern United States. This region provides ideal climates for both hardy and tropical hibiscus plants.

Essential Growing Tips

Growing Zones:4 to 12
Sunlight Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Requirements:Fertile, well-draining soils
Water Needs:Once or twice a week
Fertilizer Needs:Every 1 to 2 weeks
Pruning:Hardy varieties don’t need pruning. Lightly prune tropical varieties in fall.
Pests:Aphids, Japanese beetles, scale insects
Winter Care:Depends on the variety
Easy to Grow:Yes
  • Desert rosemallow (Hibiscus coulteri)
  • Heartleaf rosemallow (Hibiscus martianus)
  • Pineland hibiscus (Hibiscus aculeatus)
  • Scarlet rosemallow (Hibiscus coccineus)
  • Swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

Rose of Sharon Hibiscus

Rose of Sharon Hibiscus

General Overview

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a hardy hibiscus that grows differently than other hibiscus plants. While other hibiscus plants are herbaceous perennials, the rose of Sharon is a woody shrub. These types of hibiscus plants are popular with gardeners worldwide because of their ornamental qualities.

Botanical Characteristics

Rose of Sharon is an upright woody perennial shrub that flowers on new growth each season. These shrubs don’t die back to the ground like other hardy hibiscus plants. Rose of Sharon shrubs produce large blue, purple, red, or white flowers from midsummer until fall. Like other hibiscus plants, the flowers only last for a day or so.

Native Range

Rose of Sharon hibiscus is native to parts of southern China and other areas of east Asia. It has also been introduced into several countries where it has become naturalized.

Essential Growing Tips

Growing Zones:5 to 9
Sunlight Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Requirements:Rich, well-draining soils
Water Needs:Once or twice a week
Fertilizer Needs:Every 1 to 2 weeks
Pruning:Prune in late winter or early spring
Pests:Aphids, Japanese beetles, scale insects
Winter Care:Hardy in Zones 5 to 9
Easy to Grow:Yes
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Aphrodite’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Blue Bird’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Blue Satin’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Lavender Chiffon’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Lil Kim’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Orchid Satin’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Purple Satin’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Red Heart’
  • Hibiscus syriacus ‘Sugar Tip’

Hibiscus Hybrids

Hibiscus Hybrids

General Overview

Most hibiscus plants available today are hybrids created by hybridizing Hibiscus rosa-sinensis with other varieties, such as Hibiscus moscheutos. These hibiscus types are bred for several reasons, such as to improve their cold hardiness or to achieve a more extended flowering season.

Botanical Characteristics

Hibiscus hybrids can be either hardy hibiscus or tropical hibiscus. Like other hibiscus plants, hybrids usually have large, attractive flowers with five petals and a dark ring around the center. Hibiscus hybrids bloom at different times but are at their best in the summer.

Native Range

Hibiscus hybrids come from various parts of the world. Their origin depends on where the hibiscus species that were hybridized to create the hybrid came from. Most hybrids derived from Hibiscus rosa-sinensis can be traced back to eastern Asia.

Essential Growing Tips

Growing Zones:4 to 12
Sunlight Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Requirements:Rich, moist, well-draining soils
Water Needs:Once or twice a week
Fertilizer Needs:Every 1 to 2 weeks
Pruning:Lightly prune tropical varieties in the fall. Hardy varieties don’t require pruning.
Pests:Aphids, Japanese beetles, scale insects
Winter Care:Depends on the variety
Easy to Grow:Yes
  • Hibiscus ‘Black Dragon’
  • Hibiscus ‘Brandy Punch’
  • Hibiscus ‘Candy Stripe
  • Hibiscus ‘Cranberry Crush’
  • Hibiscus ‘Everest White’
  • Hibiscus ‘Fantasia’
  • Hibiscus ‘Hawaiian Sunset’
  • Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’
  • Hibiscus ‘Painted Lady’
  • Hibiscus ‘Summer Storm’

Hibiscus Plant Types FAQs:

How Many Different Varieties of Hibiscus Are There?

There are hundreds of individual species within the Hibiscus genus. Hibiscus plants are divided into several types, including annual hibiscus, perennial hibiscus, tropical hibiscus, and hardy hibiscus.

How Do I Know What Kind of Hibiscus I Have?

The two most common types of hibiscus are hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus. Tropical hibiscus flowers come in orange, peach, salmon, or yellow, whereas hardy hibiscus is usually pink, red, or white. If your hibiscus has double flowers rather than single flowers, it’s probably a tropical hibiscus.

What Kind of Hibiscus is a Perennial?

Both hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus are perennials when grown in their preferred climates. However, tropical hibiscus species behave as annuals in colder areas outside of Zones 10 to 12.

Wrapping Up

Hibiscus flowers are mainly divided between hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus. However, hibiscus plants can be further divided into other types, such as native hibiscus or rose of Sharon hibiscus. Many hibiscus varieties are hybrids between at least two other cultivars.

Further Reading:

Contributing Editor | edd@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Edd is a budding content writer and gardener living in the United Kingdom. He has a bachelor's degree in Creative and Professional Writing and has written for several gardening publications online. He is passionate about nature and sustainability with a focus on gardening and wildlife.

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