These gorgeous flowers are the ancestors of many of our garden Hibiscus varieties. There are two main color variants: white with dark red eye (forma peckii in older botanists) and the more common solid pink. They are not terribly common here, but locally abundant, as they were in this swamp in Cranberry, where they were blooming in late August. The USDA PLANTS database reports this species only in Allegheny and Fayette Counties in our area, but this colony was very near the line between Allegheny and Butler counties, and we are not entirely sure on which side of the border.
These pictures were taken with a cell phone while the photographer was standing knee-deep in poison ivy beside a busy four-lane highway. They are not ideal photographs, but, considering the circumstances, they are adequate. Such are the sacrifices we make to document the flora of southwestern Pennsylvania for you.
HIBÍSCUS L. Rose Mallow
Calyx involucellate at the base by a row of numerous bractlets, 5-cleft. Column of stamens long, bearing anthers for much of its length. Styles united, stigmas 5, capitate. Fruit a 5-celled loculicidal pod. Seeds several or many in each cell. — Herbs or shrubs, usually with large and showy flowers. (An old Greek and Latin name of unknown meaning.)
H. Moscheùtos L. (swamp R.) Tall perennial (1-2.6 m. high); the ■tern puberulent above; leaves ovate, pointed, toothed, the lower and sometimes the upper 3-Iobed, downy-whitened underneath, glabrous or slightly downy above: calyx and bracts densely stellate-puberulent; calyx in anthesis 2-3 cm. long, its lobes ovate or ovate-oblong; petals 6-12 cm. long, rose-color; capsule glabrous, subglobose, abruptly beaked. — River-banks and fresh or brackish marshes, near the coast, e. Mass., southw.; also lake-shores and swamps (especially near salt springs) westw. to Ont. and Mo. July-Sept.
Gray makes the crimson-eyed form a separate species, but it seems clear that in Cranberry, at least, it is the same species as the pink form:
Beautiful little Hibiscus flowers that last only a short time once they open (thus the common name). This plant came to the New World as a garden favorite, but has made itself at home in the most inhospitable places: this plant grew through the gravel at the edge of a gravel parking lot near Cranberry, where it was blooming at the end of September.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
HIBÍSCUS L. ROSE MALLOW. Calyx involucellate at the base by a row of numerous bractlets, 5-cleft. Column of stamens long, bearing anthers for much of its length. Styles united, stigmas 5, capitate. Fruit a 5-celled loculicidal pod. Seeds several or many in each cell. — Herbs or shrubs, usually with large and showy flowers. (An old Greek and Latin name of unknown meaning.)
H. triònum L. (FLOWER-OF-AN-HOUR.) A low rather hairy annual; upper leaves 3-parted, with lanceolate divisions, the middle one much the longest; fruiting calyx inflated, membranaceous, 5-winged, with numerous dark ciliate nerves; corolla sulphur-yellow, with a blackish eye, ephemeral.—Cultivated and waste ground, rather local. (Nat, from Eu.)
A pernicious weed to farmers, but to city dwellers an interesting and harmless wild flower. It likes cultivated or recently disturbed ground, and will happily sprout up in a porch planter. Originally it comes from Asia, where it is used both for food and for its tough fiber. This plant was growing on a sunny bank in Beechview that had recently been dug up.
The distinctive crown-shaped seedpods are fascinating to children.
Flowers. Golden yellow; about an inch wide; typical mallow form, with five regular petals and a column of united stamens; borne in leaf axils.
Leaves. Quite large, heart-shaped; velvety; strong pinnate veining; at right angles to fleshy petioles, which are about half the length of the leaves.
Stems. Thick and fleshy; velvety; about 3 feet high (a meter or so).
Gray describes the genus and the species:
ABÙTILON [Tourn.] Mill. INDIAN MALLOW. Carpels 2-9-seeded, at length 2-valved. Radicle ascending or pointing inward. Otherwise as in Sida. (Name of unknown origin. )
A. theophrasti Medic. (VELVET LEAF.) Tall annual, 6-12 dm. high; leaves roundish-heart-shaped, taper-pointed, velvety; peduncles shorter than the leaf-stalks; corolla yellow; carpels 12-16, hairy, beaked. (A. Avicennae Gaertn.; A. Abutilon Rusby.) — Waste places, vacant lots in cities, etc. (Nat. from India.)
In Nature’s Garden (1900), Neltje Blanchan remembers when this flower was a pampered garden pet:
There was a time, not many years ago, when this now common and often troublesome weed was imported from India and tenderly cultivated in flower gardens. In the Orient it and allied species are grown for their fibre, which is utilized for cordage and cloth; but the equally valuable plant now running wild here has yet to furnish American men with a profitable industry. Although the blossom is next of kin to the veiny Chinese bell-flower, or striped abutilon, so common in greenhouses, its appearance is quite different.