Hollywood has a word for it- it’s called ‘meet-cute.’ If you’ve seen any movies at all, the scene is repeated time after time. It’s when the heroine comes into the film and the hero is smitten. He’s never the same; he’s enchanted; he has to have her. He has ‘met the cute.’
This is how the Confederate Rose strikes the passer-by in the fall of the year. People want to know, “What is that plant? I’d like to have one of those.” They, without knowing it, have had a horticultural ‘meet-cute’ experience.
As with all introductions, let’s begin with the plant’s name. Hibiscus Mutablis is known as the Confederate Rose throughout the South. Why this plant, which is a native of China and not even a rose, should have such a name is beyond me. In truth, the plant is completely adapted to the American South and is one of those pass along plants that one neighbor passes to another so as to become a Southern tradition, The plant is not fussy about soil and is extremely easy to root in the fall of the year. So, this plant tends to go from garden to garden. It is admired in one place and carried to another.
But none of this explains why it would be called the Confederate Rose. The plant being well adapted to the South is not enough of a reason. Lots of plants are in that category. The only hint I have is an old tradition that is said to have developed during the War Between the States. This is how the tradition goes:
If the blossom (of the H. Mutablis) is light pink upon blooming, the confederate soldier is well, if the blossom opens with medium pink splotches on the bloom, the soldier has been wounded, if the blossom opens a dark pink, the soldier has been killed. It seems that ladies of the Confederate War period placed great store in the forecasting abilities of this plant.
Hibiscus Mutablis can reach eight to twelve feet in height and as equally wide with flowering branches covered with large lobed leaves. The flowers are large as well with blousy blooms that are four to six inches wide. You can find the Confederate Rose in several versions. Some have deep pink flowers. Some have double wide blooms that are pink and turn red with age, making even the blooms on the same plant varying shades of pink to white and red.
This plant will often die back to the ground in very cold winters, but it comes back quickly in the spring to bloom that very summer. You might want to treat it like an extra large perennial, cutting away any dead wood that is frozen during winter. The plant will definitely come back in the spring following a freeze, so don’t worry.
Few plants are as easy as the Confederate Rose. It has a “laid back” and relaxed nature even in the face of the fierce heat of the American South. Perhaps this is the reason why it is one of those heritage plants that have come to typify the gardens in our part of the country. It has a casual, easy-going nature about it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it for sale in a nursery, yet I’ve seen it all over the American South. People like it, and it is easy to propagate. Pieces of cut branches will root in a jar of water on a sunny windowsill.
People are often struck with this plant’s beauty. Year after year someone always asks about this plant. They have a “Meet-Cute” experience when they first see see it!