Confederate rose: a fall-flowering chameleon

Like aspiring Hollywood actors, there are some lesser known fall-blooming garden plants that perform brilliantly in our gardens, but are rarely found in the marketplace. These plants have beauty, talent, and the ability to make passersby stop for a longer look.

One of those plants that should receive top billing is Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis). Although it spends most of the growing season looking rather ordinary with large, fuzzy sycamore-like leaves, it’s not until late September and October when she makes her debut. The first one I saw several autumns ago rose more than 10 feet high and had red, pink, and white peonylike flowers-all on the same plant! I was awestruck.

Like a chameleon, Confederate rose flowers open up white and then change to pink and then to red before they begin to fade. Some cultivars of Confederate rose, such as ‘Plena,’ have double-flowers that change from white to pink.’Flore-Plena’ is a common cultivar that has double pink, camellialike flowers.

Confederate rose prefers full sun to partial shade in a well-drained location. In the Piedmont the woody stems die back to the ground when temperatures drop to 15 degrees F. However, new shoots slowly emerge in the spring.

Although Confederate rose may be hard to find in the nursery trade, you should find one growing somewhere in your community. The folks I know who grow “The Rose” have always been generous about passing along a handful of easy-to-root cuttings. Like self-appointed publicity agents, they’re determined to make Confederate rose famous.

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