Scientific name: Hibiscus heterophyllus
Plant type: Large shrub
Environment: Full sun, well-drained soil, protected from frost
Bloom: White to yellow flowers with deep red center
Uses: Specimen plant, screening plant
Native rosella (Hibiscus heterophyllus) is a large shrub native to eastern Australia. It is found in wet forests on the edge of rainforests. In the wild, the species is not facing any threats currently and has a wide distribution, making it a species of low conservation concern. Hibiscus heterophyllus is one of 35 Hibiscus species native to Australia, most of which are found on the east coast of the country.
Native rosellas have variable flower colors ranging from bright yellow to white with pale pink tinged in the petals. A hallmark throughout the species, though, is the deep red center of the flower. This color variation tends to correlate with the species’ range with yellow flowered plants more common in the north of Australia near Queensland and the lighter colored white flowers occurring further south. The leaves of the species are also variable with lower leaves having multiple lobes and upper leaves being unlobed. This characteristic is noted in the specific epithet heterophyllus, meaning different leaves.
The showy flowers are also filled with nectar and are popular with birds in its native range such as lorikeets (Trichoglossus) and honeyeaters (Meliphagidae). The stems of the plant are of human interest and the fibers can be used to make clothes, bags, and nets. Additionally, multiple parts of the plant are edible.
While native rosella is not the most common species in cultivation, it does have a notable history in cultivation. Seeds of Hibiscus heterophyllus were collected by French plant collectors in Australia dispatched by Napoléon in the early nineteenth century. These seeds, among many other species, were brought back to France and planted in the gardens at Château de Malmaison, the residence of the Empress Josephine, who had a keen interest in plants. These plants were used to write the formal description of the species and were studied by botanists and artists alike.
Featured Plant Contributors: Text, profile, and photos Victoria Stewart