Meet the colorful, tropical hibiscus family at Tropical Hibiscus Show

like us, plants belong to extended families — they even have first and last names as we do. Sometimes they will have a third name that indicates a connection somewhat like a cousin, aunt or uncle.

In advance of Sunday's Tropical Hibiscus Show in Pinellas Park, let's look at the mallow family, of which hibiscus is a member.

The mallow family includes 243 genera (parents), 4,225 species (aunts, uncles, cousins) and more than 12,000 cultivars (children), making it a fairly large plant family. (And you thought your Thanksgiving table was crowded.)

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, or Chinese hibiscus, is common in Florida and may be what you have in your landscape. It is one of the sets of parents in the mallow family and is responsible for around 10,000 cultivars, many of which will be on display Sunday.

This plant is fairly easy to hybridize, which is why there are so many offspring. You'll find Hibiscus rosa-sinensis in all colors of the rainbow with variations in single, double and triple flower faces. Hybridizing, or crossing plants, is accomplished by placing the ripe pollen from one hibiscus (parent 1) onto the female flower part or stigma of another hibiscus (parent 2). If you're lucky, a seedpod will form, thus creating new children, or cultivars.

With novice and professional breeders creating new plants, you can see how fast a family can grow. New plants are named according to their genus (first name) and species (last name). A few close relatives of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis include:

Hibiscus mutabilis, commonly called confederate rose, a large shrub with double flowers that change colors throughout the day from bright white in the morning to pale pink at noon and dark pink before nightfall;

Hibiscus schizopetalus, or fringed hibiscus, an odd flower that blooms upside down;

Hibiscus moscheutos, or rose mallow, which dies to the ground in winter but rebounds to produce single 9-inch flowers about the size of a lunch plate;

• Our magnificent native Hibiscus coccineus, or scarlet hibiscus, which is a bit more tolerant of cold weather than the tropical Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.

The extended family — think aunts, uncles and cousins — includes cotton, Gossypium hirsutum; okra, Abelmoschus esculentus; kola, Cola acuminata, for which cola drinks are named; and the cocoa plant, Theobroma cacao, the source of chocolate. Also in the family is the marsh mallow plant, Althaea officinalis, once used to make a sugary snack but not part of today's puffy white confection, and the kapok, Ceiba pentandra, one specimen of which has long been an icon at the site of the former Kapok Tree Inn in Clearwater. There's another spectacular kapok adjacent to the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

Whether this is your introduction to the mallow family or you're a longtime friend, you'll find plenty of blooms worthy of oohs and ahs at Sunday's show.

Greg Charles, who taught gardeners for more than 30 years through the Pinellas Technical Education Centers, writes the "Dr. Hort" column for the Times. He can be reached at drhort@tampabay.rr.com.

. FAST FACTS

Tropical Hibiscus Show

The Sunset Chapter of the American Hibiscus Society will host its annual show and sale Sunday at the Pinellas Park Auditorium, 7690 59th St. N. The sale begins at 10 a.m.; blooms will be displayed from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

(727) 784-5068 or (727) 530-9118; sunsetchapter.org.

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Meet the colorful, tropical hibiscus family at Tropical Hibiscus Show 05/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 4:13pm]

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