Free Newsletter
Your email address

Hidden Valley Hibiscus
Growers & Hybridizers of Exotic, Tropical Hibiscus
Volume 18, Issue 2
February 2017

News from Hidden Valley Hibiscus

Exotic Hibiscus 'Rags to Riches'

Exotic Hibiscus 'Birds of a Feather' in Page Border

'Rainbow Christie'

'White Hot'

'Blackberry Truffle'

Happy February, fellow hibiscus lovers!

It has been a cold, cloudy, rainy winter in California, but thankfully the drought is gone! Finally, spring is getting closer! It's already warming up a bit here, and hopefully in much of the rest of the country too.

Our first article this month is an unusual one for our newsletters. It's the result of a longtime mystery we have puzzled over about the origins of hibiscus. New scientific research led us to ask ourselves the question, Did Hibiscus Grow in the Jurassic Age of Dinosaurs? Follow the trail with us as we try to answer this question and figure out how, when, and where our hibiscus ancestors first started growing.

Our second article is a reminder about Pruning Time. We will help you figure out when it's time for you to start pruning your hibiscus, and we'll give you the information you need to do the job safely, whether you're a beginner or an old pro.

Our Seedling of the Month for February is a multi-colored giant hibiscus flower that we can't wait to share with you. We hope you love it as much as we do!

Best wishes to all!

Charles & Cindy Black

'Maui Artist'


'Golden Gate'


Did Hibiscus Grow in the Jurassic Age of Dinosaurs?

Mauritius is a tiny, little island off the coast of Africa, and for some mysterious reason, three of the species that make up our modern hibiscus came from that one, isolated little spot on our planet. Even more strangely, all three of these species can interbreed with the five other species sprinkled across the tropics that also went into the genes of the modern hibiscus. And all but one of these five species are also native to distant, small, isolated islands. How is this possible? It is very unusual for different plant species to be cross-compatible, and it is particularly rare for plant species from different geographic locations to be cross-compatible. There is a mystery here that has puzzled us for years!

Exotic Hibiscus 'World Map of Hibiscus Species'
The hibiscus species that make up the modern hibiscus originated across a huge geographical span

Recently some new scientific information gave us a couple of tantalizing clues to the possible origins of our favorite plant. We have a theory - possibly just a fanciful theory. But nothing else seems to explain all the facts yet, so we thought we would share our theory with you just for fun.

Going Back in Time ~ 100 Million Years Ago

To solve this mystery, we have to go back to the dinosaur days. Modern scientists have thought that flowers didn't exist until about 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. According to the bulk of fossil evidence, flowering plants suddenly sprung to life all over the various continents during this super warm, humid time when the Earth was splintered into many small continents. But evolution almost never happens this quickly, and certainly not on many distant landmasses that are separated by huge expanses of water. Some scientists have questioned this timeline and suggested that very tiny flowering plants may possibly have started well back into the Jurassic period.

Finally, one tiny fossil from Spain has now been dated back to 160 million years ago, right in the Jurassic period. Although it is very, very small, it clearly looks like a flower in all respects! It's an old fossil that was dug up 40 years ago and has been sitting around unappreciated for all these years until new dating methods allowed scientists to establish its age.

So now we get to shift our thinking and look back deeper into the Jurassic period for the origins of flowers instead of being locked into the Cretaceous period. Let's follow our trail further back in time and see where that takes us...

Further Back into the Jurassic Period ~ 200 Million Years Ago

Let's set the stage for the evolution of hibiscus. What was Earth like about 200 million years ago? It was very, very different! All the land on Earth was pushed together into one, single, giant continent called Pangea. The climate was warmer and more humid than today over much of Pangea - a huge tropical paradise. Dinosaurs thrived in this warm paradise, as did plants and tiny mammals. Life grew and flourished everywhere, spreading freely to all parts of the land since there was only one single large landmass.

Countries where hibiscus originated at the time of Pangea, about 135 million years ago.
Mauritia, Madagascar, India, and Tibetan China were all part of to the east coast of what is now Africa.
Photo Credit: Massimo Pietrobon

This is where we get excited! In the ancient Pangean single continent, Mauritia, Madagascar, India, and Tibetan China were all crammed together in one relatively small geographic area. Talk about a hot clue! Here we have one small spot in the ancient world where 5 of the 8 hibiscus species that blended to make our modern hibiscus could have all evolved together from one mother plant. Could this possibly mean that hibiscus evolved in this one part of ancient Pangea? We had to try to find out more!

After a lot more digging, it turns out that even more emerging fossil evidence is pushing the development of flowers way back into the Jurassic period. Fossils of very early flowering plants have been discovered in both China and Germany that date from the early-mid Jurassic era during the time of Pangea. China! So if flowers evolved in China on Pangea, our little hypothesis is not looking so crazy after all. The earliest hibiscus could have started in the part of Pangea where Mauritia, Madagascar, India, and Tibetan China clustered together sometime toward the end of the Jurassic period.

Hibiscus are in the mallow family, and the mallows are know to be among the oldest flowering plants on Earth. The ceiba tree, a very ancient mallow, is thought to be one of the very first flowering plants. You can easily see below how much these ancient ceiba flowers look like their cousins, our hibiscus species flowers. Hibiscus still have the same 5 staminal filaments that ceiba flowers have, only hibiscus evolved to protect and encase them inside a sturdy staminal column. Amazingly, very little has changed in the basic structure of hibiscus flowers since the days of the ancient ceiba flower.

Ancient Mallow Flower ~ Ceiba
Ceiba, ancient hibiscus cousin
Photo Credit: Michigan State University
Hibiscus storckii
Hibiscus liliiflorus
Hibiscus fragilis
Hibiscus fragilis

So how did the earliest hibiscus end up becoming our 8 special hibiscus species that spread across all across the globe, and why aren't these hibiscus found in other tropical parts of the globe? For that, we have to move forward in time to the warm Cretaceous period, 100 million years ago.

Moving Forward Again ~ Changing, Migrating Continents

The Cretaceous period really changed our planet. The Earth was already very warm, but now it warmed up even more. All glaciers melted all over the planet, and sea level rose by a full 100 meters (328 feet)! The entire planet, all the way to the poles, was very warm and tropical. The new flowering plants that had evolved on Pangea really took off in this new, warmer world. But the extremely high sea level poured water all over the land, and the giant Pangea continent began to splinter into many smaller, separate continents.

Interestingly, Mauritia, Madagascar, India and Tibetan China moved together away from the rest of the land, and became a single island off the coast of Africa! They stayed in this island formation for many millions of years. We don't know what kind of hibiscus they took with them, but whatever it was, it could have eventually evolved, in the isolation of this island, into the 5 related species that we know today. Mystery solved! This finally explains why these 5 species are cross-compatible, can mix their genes, and have not been found anywhere else.

Earth during the Cretaceous Period
The Cretaceous Period, 100 million years ago
India, Madagascar, and Mauritius are still stuck together, moving away from Africa
Photo Credit: Christopher Scotese, Paleomap Project

The Cretaceous period was the final burst of glory for the dinosaurs. Our little hibiscus plants could have grown next to Tyrannosaurus rex, Ankylosaurus or Triceratops! Pteranodons flew through the air, and Archaeopteryx was evolving into increasing numbers of birds. It would be an amazing thing if Hibiscus liliiflorus, storckii, genevieve, schizopetalus, and rosa-sinensis could have grown up alongside these giant creatures - or if not they themselves, perhaps a mother hibiscus plant that later evolved into our species plants.

Moving Forward to Modern Times ~ Finishing the Migration of Continents

A few years later, about 66 million years ago, the dinosaurs were all gone. A massive asteroid or comet is thought to have hit the earth and blanketed our sky with dust that created a long, cold winter. About 75% of all species of plants and animals on our super warm earth could not take the cold and died off, never to be seen again. Amazingly, our little hibiscus species were able to survive!

By this time, India and Tibetan China had pulled away from Madagascar and Mauritius, leaving them as separate islands off the coast of Africa. India and Tibetan China migrated rapidly across the ocean until they collided with the rest of China about 50 million years ago. They settled snugly against Nepal and the rest of China, where they still sit today. At this time, India and Tibetan China were in the perfect position to spread hibiscus around the rest of southern Asia, where it is still found today. From there, or from Madagascar or Mauritius, Polynesian travelers could have carried hibiscus in their boats to Hawaii and Fiji where the last 3 species could have evolved.

Could all of this be true? We don't know. We need more research to know anything for sure. It's just a guess on our part, based on many, many hours of research - more than our readers will ever want to know about! The trails led here there and everywhere and many seemed to point to hibiscus possibly being much older than we ever thought before. So maybe it is true, and maybe some day researchers will discover more evidence that moves us along in our knowledge. Whatever the outcome, we'll never be able to think of T. rex again without imagining a little hibiscus blossom growing daintily between his giant toes.

For anyone who is interested in reading our sources, we did a lot of research in four languages to follow this trail. We didn't do an exhaustive review, but we did get pretty exhausted from the searching! We don't want to put you to sleep or drive you to total boredom, so listed below are only our most important and most interesting sources.

  1. Beauchamp, J. and Lemoigne, Y., 1973. "Description d'une paleoflore du Cretace terminal-Eocene dans le massif du Chercher (province d'Harar, Ethiopie)" Documents des Laboratoires de Geologie de la Faculte des Sciences de Lyon, 56: 167-180.

  2. Carpentier, A., 2004. El Reino de Este Mundo. Mexico: Editorial Planeta Mexicana, ISBN 970-749-012-8, 105. Trans. Harriet de Onís.

  3. Couvreur, T., 2011. "Forêts Tropicales Humides : Aux Origines de la Biodiversité". Institut de Rechèrche pour le Développement. Université Montpellier, Fiches d'Actualité Scientifique, 379.

  4. Ghose, Tia; Jan. 31, 2017. "3-Billion-Year-Old 'Lost Continent' Lurking Under African Island". Live Science.

  5. Le Péchon, T.; Dai, Q.; Zhang,L.B.; Gao,X.F. and Sauquet, H., 2015. "Diversification of Dombeyoideae (Malvaceae) in the Mascarenes: Old Taxa on Young Islands?" International Journal of Plant Science, University of Chicago, 176(3):211–221.

  6. NOAA Paleoclimatology "Climate Science: Investigating Climatic and Environmental Processes".

  7. Oskin, Becky; April 8, 2015. "Controversy Blooms Over Earliest Flower Fossil." Live Science.

  8. Pietrobon, M., Sept. 13, 2013. "Pangea Politica" Mi Laboratorio de Ideas.

  9. Scotese, C. R., 2001. Atlas of Earth History, Volume 1, Paleogeography, PALEOMAP Project, Arlington, Texas, 52 pp. Late Cretacous Map

  10. Von Humboldt, A, 1850. Views of Nature, Or, Contemplations on the Sublime Phenomena of Creation. London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, 224. Trans. Ottée;, Bohn, H.

  11. Wang, X., 2010. The Dawn Angiosperms: Uncovering the Origin of Flowering Plants. Springer-Verlag Berlin heidelberg.


Hibiscus Care

Pruning Time!

Here in Southern California and across most of the southern states, pruning time is here. If danger of frost has passed for your area, now is the best time to prune. If you are still in danger of frost, wait until it's a bit warmer. Frost falling on newly pruned branches really slows down their regrowth, and can actually make the tips start to die back and set up an infection.

Ideally, we will all prune just as soon as the frost danger is past, just before the spring warm-up begins. This way, our hibiscus plants can get the full benefit of all the spring warming phase to grow the maximum number of new branches. Remember, the more branches your hibiscus have, the more flowers you'll get, since each branch tends to produce 1-2 flowers at a time on its growing tip.

Expect Miracles after Pruning
Pruning makes your hibiscus bloom like crazy!

We have a lot of information on how to prune hibiscus on the Pruning Page in the Hibiscus Care section of our website.

For beginners, or for hibiscus that are growing in places with shorter summers, the basic rule is to try not to prune off more than 1/3 of each branch. Make sure you leave several green leaves on each branch. You don't want to kill any branches by starving them too much.

If your hibiscus have been damaged by frost, don't panic! On our Pruning Page we have all the information you need to help you save your plant. Don't do anything at all until all danger of frost has passed. Resist the urge to do anything at all with the plant except water when it needs it. Just leave it alone until all danger of frost is completely gone, then carefully follow the directions on our Pruning Page.

Pruning can feel scary at first, especially when your hibiscus is doing really well and you don't want to mess anything up! But you can do a very gentle pruning that will create more branches and make the plant bloom much more this summer. Just think of all those extra flowers, and pull out your pruning shears!


Seedling of the Month...

'Lady Liberty'

Exotic Hibiscus 'Lady Liberty'
Giant Hibiscus 'Lady Liberty'

As most of you know, one of the goals of our HVH hybridizing program is to create bigger and bigger hibiscus flowers. We have been slowly and steadily increasing our selection of hibiscus that bloom with giant 8-10 inch flowers. Frustratingly, a large number of our giant hibiscus flowers have turned out to be yellow. Yellow is a beautiful color, and we love to grow yellow hibiscus, but we have struggled to hybridize just as many giants in all the other colors. We have managed to get several solid red giant flowers, which has been great too, but then again, how many solid red giant flowers do we need?

So you can imagine how excited we get every time we see a new giant seedling flower in any other colors! 'Lady Liberty' is just one of those flowers and our newest Seedling of the Month. The giant 8-10 inch flowers bloom in rings of white, pink, and blue surrounding a red flower-shaped eye. The flower is already very decorative, but the lightly ruffed edges enhance its beauty even more. The parents are 'Heartbreaker' and 'Tahitian Imperial Queen.' 'Lady Liberty' is looking really good so far, and we hope to have it available for sale sometime in 2017.