No one ever has anything good to say about global warming. Well, here’s one benefit. Thanks to the beneficent effects of this Impending Global Disaster, more people are getting introduced to one of the South’s most emblematic and remarkable plants — the Confederate rose.
Who wouldn’t want a flower like this? Although there are many forms, with either single or double flowers, the classic version looks like this. Showy blooms, 4 to 6 inches wide, appear in fall. They open white, fade to pink as they age, and finally end up red. You’ll often see all three colors on the same plant. Cool, yes?
Native to China, confederate rose isn’t a rose, but a species of hibiscus (Hibiscus mutabilis). According to legend, it gets its name from the flowers soaking up the blood spilled on Confederate battlefields. Felder Rushing, co-author of Passalong Plants — arguably the most influential book on Southern gardening ever published –recalls that ladies in Mobile, Alabama gave these flowers to Confederate soldiers returning home from the war. (At 160 years old, Felder is still the world’s oldest lady.)
Some folks call the plant “cotton rose,” because its leaves resemble cotton foliage and its round flower buds remind them of cotton bolls. This makes sense, because cotton and Confederate rose both belong to the mallow family, the Malvaceae. (See? I do know some real horticulture.)
Depending on where you live, Confederate rose can be either a small tree, a perennial, or an annual. In places that rarely feel frost, it gets huge. I saw one in Johnnie Walker’s garden on Edisto Island, South Carolina, that must have been 30 feet tall. Imagine something like that loaded with multi-colored flowers each fall! And where it doesn’t get cold, it keeps on blooming. In Florida, you can have flowers in December and January.
Where Grumpy lives, in north-central Alabama, Confederate rose becomes a large multi-trunked shrub about 8 feet tall. It freezes to the ground in winter and then comes back up. I shot this one at Aldridge Botanical Gardens in Hoover, AL. I don’t know how far north this thing is hardy (Zone 6B?), but thanks to global warming, if it isn’t hardy this year, it will probably be in two more years. So pump out more carbon and let’s get gardening!
Confederate rose likes full to part sun and moist, fertile soil. It’ll tolerate poor drainage, because the one above is growing in a wet spot. It’s a favorite Southern passalong plant, since it’s so easy to pass along. You can sow seeds in spring, but the easiest way to propagate it is to simply root cuttings in water. So if someone you know has this plant, don’t be shy about asking for a piece. It’s what we do down here.
What happens if they turn you down? Well, after you go on the internet and subscribe them to every spanking and jihadist magazine you can find, you can order a plant through the mail from the very nice folks at Woodlanders.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m in the middle of making the world a better place for Confederate rose. My homies and I need to burn some tires.