Hibiscus History

The History of Hibiscus 

 Bunga Raya, the Malaysian name for Hibiscus, is their national emblem - but Hibiscus did not originate in Malaysia.  In the Western World, it is commonly called "Hawaiian Hibiscus" yet only a few today are natives of there. You can read about that in the Hawaiian Hibiscus section and in the tribute to hybridizer, Augie Miller, one of the many Hawaiian hybridizers circa 1970


The very name Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, "Rose of China" hints at a Chinese origin.  However, researchers have found no evidence of this.  It is known how resourceful the Chinese are and they certainly recognized the versatility of the red hibiscus flower for everything from shoe blacking to facial cosmetics and making tea!  The hibiscus history recorded by Ross Gast through his letters is of extraordinary interest in learning about this as is Bulletin 29 and the Hibiscus of Hawaii.  A brief summary is on the Augie Miller page above and in Chapter 2 of the Howie book.


By a strange coincidence, so many of the species seem to have found their way to Hawaii where a lot of early hybridizing occurred.  Bulletin 93 about Hibiscus in Ceylon in 1938 makes good comments.  So many of them were compatible for cross-breeding and the gene pool potential can be seen emerging in the hybrids from Augie Miller as he improved on earlier efforts.  As late as 1980, one can see his influence on the available varieties in Australia in the Nomenclature of the Australian Hibiscus Society produced by Jim Howie. This book will remain historically significant if for this reason alone.


In the 25 years to date, I have witnessed the newer Australian varieties bred by a whole lot of hybridizers.  The American Hibiscus Society has had many doing similarly and we can witness the seedlings from recent and current breeding as their pictures are shared on the Internet.  With the exchange of cultivars around the world, the gene pool has become so mixed that there is an element of unpredictability with what flower will come from a particular cross.  The last few years of Internet access and the pooling and swapping of ideas has led to some interesting results.


The various Message Boards encouraged Richard Johnson from Tahiti to become a serious hybridizer.  He even founded the International Hibiscus Society, a Net based identity with its own web site and a Message Board where ideas and pictures proliferate.  Richard's brilliant hybrids, culled from thousands of seedlings, are now being displayed on his own web site where seeds and cuttings can be purchased.  Of course, the various national quarantine inspection procedures must be observed with such transfers.


Many hybridizers around the world are having great success breeding new varieties. They are coming from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Oceania in general, Asia and North and South America.  Climate is no barrier as efficient hot houses are being used by many.  The Internet has a huge role to play in encouraging this production.  See the most recent hybrids on the web sites of the Societies, the Message Board Mail Lists, Nursery web sites and Private web sites.


You can readily see that the history of hibiscus is alive and well.