UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

Quick Links:    Plant Photos  References    

June 23, 2005

Feature Article - for release the week of June 26, 2005

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent  

Red leafed hibiscus for easy color

When does a Hibiscus look like a Maple tree?  An office visitor brought in a cutting to identify last week from a low maintenance shrub with a dark red three-lobed leaf.  A little searching showed that this plant was False Roselle, which can quickly add a patch of deep maroon color to your Florida Yard.

False Roselle, Maroon mallow, Red-Shield hibiscus and Cranberry hibiscus are all different names for Hibiscus acetosella.  A tropical African native, it has been collected to the point of disappearing in those lands.  Not only does it have use as an attractive short-lived flowering perennial in the landscape, its young leaves and shoots have been added to salads for color, cooked with rice or vegetables because of their slightly acid flavor and are sometimes used for tea.

One of the challenges about this plant is that it is confused with another Hibiscus plant known as Roselle, sometimes called Florida Cranberry (H. sabdariffa).   Roselle is grown in the tropics for its red seed pod that is cooked, preserved or used in teas.  A popular brand of herbal hibiscus tea uses Roselle fruit as its source, not the False Roselle.

Young leaves of this Maroon Mallow are burgundy, and get darker and turn grayish as they become older. The plant suckers and thickens quickly, and may reach a height of 10 feet if left unpruned.  But if allowed to grow too tall, the woody stems will bend and break.  As an ornamental, it looks best if kept trimmed to a 3-6 foot height, which encourages branching and a fuller appearance.   

This hibiscus is reported to resist both nematodes and insect pests, and does well in sandy soil.  The leaves will wilt and droop but rapidly recover when irrigation is provided.  Full sun will bring out the deepest color of the False Roselle

This plant may be very useful as a colorful screening plant in Florida yards recovering from storms because of its rapid growth and upright habit. One of our local Master Gardeners had it in his landscape before last yearís storms and reports that it came through without any problems. It can be a welcome spot of color in dreary stormscape.  Be sure to place it where it has room to grow, and watch that it does not escape into natural areas. 

In more northern areas, False Roselle will freeze to the ground, which will act as a natural pruning method. In colder areas cuttings may be rooted or seedlings potted up to keep it as an indoor potted plant during the winter.

False Roselle is a short-day plant, so during the fall and winter small pretty pink or maroon flowers appear between the reddish leaves. These flowers are smaller that Chinese Hibiscus blooms, and unless youíre looking for them, they may be overlooked.

A possible problem comes from the prolific seed production of this plant: one garden author stated that when pruned branches were drug across the yard, the seed fell and produced many new plants.  Be careful where it is used and be sure to keep an eye out for unwanted seedlings.

Finding a source of this plant may be a bit challenging.  Various mail-order see catalogs offer seed of False Roselle.  Seed have small prickly hairs that may be irritating to some people, so collect the seed by cutting off the dried up seed capsules into a paper bag.  Pour the bag of dried, collected capsules complete with seed on the surface of the ground in a prepared seedbed. 

A clump of False Roselle in an Okeechobee Yard. Note the leaf shape and the dull summer color.   Photo courtesy Dick Dutton, Okeechobee Master Gardener.

Flowers of False Roselle appear in the fall and winter, and may not be noticed because of the color of the foliage.  Photo courtesy of Mark Shelby, formerly of UF/IFAS - Sarasota County

This is NOT False Roselle, it is the True Roselle or Florida Cranberry, source of the ripened fruit used for Hibiscus tea.  Photo from Julia Morton's Fruits of warm climates.

Iíve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page,  http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you would like to see some additional references on False Roselle, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners on Tuesday afternoons from 1 to 5 PM.  


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean Last update: 06/23/2005 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  Hit Counter


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Christien,  Mimi  Tampa: Our Florida Garden (website)  April,  2004  Several good photos of False roselle in the Florida landscape.   

Hinsley, Stewart R.   MALVACEAE INFO (website).     United Kingdom:  Hibiscus (section Furcaria) Gallery.   2004.   Good close up photos (by G. Keena) of leaves and flowers of False Roselle. http://www.malvaceae.info/Genera/Hibiscus/galleryF.html 

Morton, J. 1987.  Roselle. p. 281Ė286.  In: Fruits of warm climates.  Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.

Stephens, Jim.  Roselle -- Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Fact Sheet HS-659 (in:Manual of Minor Vegetables, SP-40)   Gainesville: UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service, May 1994. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MV126.

Wilson, Anne Marie.   Tea Time with Herbs (webpage) and Jamaican Tea Hibiscus.   Austin Texas: Horsetail Haven,   1998.  For a good comparison photo of the False Roselle and Roselle, click here.

Whitinger, Dave.   Dave's Garden Website.  San Antonio:  Detailed information on Red-Leaf Hibiscus, False Roselle, African Rose Mallow (Hibiscus acetosella), August 2004. http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/2112/index.html