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Growing Hibiscus acetosella - A Hibiscus with Dazzling Foliage?


Hibiscus 'Panama Red'

Hibiscus 'Panama Red'

Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.


Hibiscus is a large genus of over 200 shrubs, trees, annuals and perennials. Many can appear tropical and exotic with colorful, sometimes plate-sized flowers. Hibiscus acetosella is a short-lived sub-shrub or woody perennial, grown mainly for its foliage, which can come in stunning shades of copper and burgundy that rival red maples. The flowers and leaves are edible, with a pleasant tart taste.

Latin Name:

Hibiscus acetosella [be]

Common Name(s):

False Roselle, African Rose Mallow

USDA Hardiness Zones:

USDA Zones: 7 - 11 (Depending on variety)


Depends on variety and growing conditions, but most get to about 4' (h) x 4-6' (w)


Bloom Period:

Blooms sporadically throughout summer. Newer cultivars bred for their foliage tend to bloom less frequently, if at all.


Hibiscus acetosella is a somewhat upright shrubby plant that has recently become popular with plant breeders.

Foliage: The leaves can be ovate or lobed, but the newer varieties have been bred to have deeply lobed, finely cut leaves like Japanese maples. You’ll find shades of green with red veining through to a deep burgundy.

Flowers: Typical Hibiscus funnel shaped flowers in yellow and red. The flowers are incidental on Hibiscus acetosella and some of the newer cultivars don’t flower at all.

Form: Although Hibiscus acetosella is an upright grower, mature plants can split and flop.

Design Tips:

Hibiscus acetosella makes a nice focal point, where a Japanese maple might be too large. They combine strikingly with chartreuse plants as well as with softer shades of pink and white. Some of the smaller cultivars make excellent potted plants and can be overwintered in a greenhouse.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Hibiscus 'Red Shield' (syn. ‘Coppertone’) - Iridescent maroon leaves and stems with deep red flowers. (3-4' (h) x 4-6' (w) / Zones 8 - 11)

  • Hibiscus ‘Panama Red’ - Dark plum foliage and leaves. Bred specifically for hot-humid conditions. Sporadic red flowers. (4' (h) x 4-6' (w) / Zones 9 - 11)

  • Hibiscus ‘Panama Bronze’ - Dark green leaves tinged with bronze. Color is more intense in full sun. Also bred specifically for hot-humid conditions. Sporadic red flowers. (4' (h) x 4-6' / Zones 9 - 11)

  • Hibiscus 'Garden Leader Gro Big Red' - Deep red leaves, burgundy flowers. (5' (h) x 5-6' (w) / Zones 8 -10)

Growing Tips:

Hibiscus acetosella are fairly low maintenance. Their biggest need is water. Keep the plants moist, but don’t allow them to sit in wet soil. Container plants will need daily watering.

Fertilize monthly to bi-monthly during the summer, with any balanced fertilizer. Don’t over-feed container plants, unless you have a larger container to move them to.

Pruning is not required, but can be done to shape or control the size of your plant. Branches that grow fast and long will tend to arch and open the center of the plant. Some pruning helps this Hibiscus to maintain a bushy shape. Wind can also take its toll on long branches.

Overwinter indoors, where Hibiscus acetosella is not hardy. You can also take small cuttings in the fall, to overwinter for next spring.

Problems & Pests:

Japanese Beetles will skeletonize the leaves.

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