The Hibiscus Trio


Perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) left, Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) middle, rose of sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) right. Photo: http://www.plant-world-seeds, &

I receive a lot of gardening questions and a surprising number concern hibiscus. Either a lot of people are growing hibiscuses or a lot of people are having trouble with them! 

The problem is, I can’t answer a question about a hibiscus plant without knowing which hibiscus you’re referring to. So, it would help me (and you) to know which hibiscus you are growing. 

Yet, to many gardeners, a hibiscus is a hibiscus, period. How complicated can it be? 

Very complicated, actually.

Three Out of Hundreds

There are actually hundreds of species of Hibiscus found all over the world, including annuals, perennials, shrubs and—yes!—even trees! Some are grown as ornamentals, others for their edible flowers and fruits and even some for their fibres! All, of course, are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and their flowers look a lot like mallow blooms, but bigger.

However, when most people refer to hibiscuses, they have one of three species in mind, all, initially, with similar flowers: large and disc-shaped with 5 broad petals and a striking central column composed of anthers surrounding an even longer style. All come in various colors and can be simple, semi-double or double and most have flowers that last but a day, sometimes two, but, of course, all bloom repeatedly.

Let’s look at all three.

Perennial Hibiscus, Hardy Hibiscus, Rose Mallow or Swamp Rose Mallow (H. moscheutos)

Perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Pink Elephant’). Photo:

This hibiscus is a herbaceous perennial and is hardy from USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, even zone 4 with a little winter protection. It can be very tall (up to 15 feet/4.5 m!), but modern cultivars are usually in the 3 to 7-foot range (1 to 2 m). Its stems are quite woody for a perennial and need to be cut back in spring.

Most modern cultivars of perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) have overlapping petals. Photo:

Perennial hibiscus starts its growth cycle very late in the spring, often a full month after other perennials have started to sprout, but then grows quickly. It produces huge flower buds that open into giant flowers, often said to be dinner-plate size and that’s scarcely an exaggeration: some are 9 inches (25 cm) in diameter, by far the largest flower of any perennial. They come in a wide range of shades, from white to pink, red and purple, often with a red eye. 

It can be a very late and brief bloomer colder climates, but has long blooming period, from July to September, in milder ones.

The leaves of perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)are quite variable in shape, but usually mid-green. Photo:

Its leaves are quite variable and can be broadly ovate to lanceolate, even heart-shaped, and sometimes bear 3 to 5 shallow lobes. Curiously, the shape can vary on the same plant. They are usually medium green (some cultivars have bronze foliage).

It’s the only one of the three commonly grown from seed.

Rose of Sharon, Shrub Althea and Shrubby Hibiscus (H. syriacus)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a temperate-climate shrub. Photo:

This hibiscus is a shrub adapted to temperate climates: USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8, even 4 with winter protection. It reaches 7–13 feet (2–4 m) in height and branches abundantly. 

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) offers an interesting color range. Photo:

It has the smallest flowers of the three, but still, they are about 1½ to 4 inches (4 to 10 cm) in diameter and very showy. They come in white, pink, red and “blue” (blue-violet), often with a red or purple eye. It also has the smallest leaves of the three, with three distinct lobes.

Chinese Hibiscus, Tropical Hibiscus or China Rose (H. rosa-sinensis)

Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is, outdoors, a large tropical shrub. Photo:

Of unknown origin, this plant is a tropical shrub and is only grown outdoors year-round in tropical or subtropical climates (USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11). That said, it is also widely available in temperate climates as a houseplant and patio plant. 

The Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) comes in a remarkable range of colors. Photo:

Chinese hibiscus can be anything from 1 to 12 feet in height (30 cm to 4 m) and has woody branches. The flowers, usually about 3 to 8 inches (7.5 to 20 cm) in diameter, come in a wide range of colors: red, pink, white, yellow, peach, orange or purple.

The Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is often sold as a houseplant or patio plant. Photo:

It can flower all year long, although generally mostly heavily in spring and summer when grown as a container plant or houseplant. Leaves are dark green (sometimes variegated) and ovate with toothed edges.

Obviously, since it’s a tropical plant, it tolerates no frost.


So, three hibiscuses, all with far too many common names: one a perennial (H. moscheutos), one a temperate shrub (H. syriacus) and one a tropical shrub used as a houseplant or patio plant (H. rosa-sinensis). Give all of them full sun, never let them dry out completely, fertilize occasionally and apply whatever special conditions they need to get them through the winter. But you do need to know which is which if you’re going to succeed with them … or if you want to ask questions about them. 

Fun Facts About Hibiscus


The ever popular hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is more versatile than we usually think. Source:

The Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is among the most widely grown houseplants in the world and is no less popular as a flowering shrub for outdoor use in the tropics. And who doesn’t instantly recognize its huge dish-shaped flower that comes in such a wide range of colors?

But this popular plant is not just a pretty face. It also has its share of secrets, including the following:

  1. Hibiscus buds and flowers are edible, with a lemony taste, and are rich in vitamin C. They can be used in chutneys, soups, salads, curries, jams and jellies. Dried, they are also used in herbal tea.
  2. The Chinese hibiscus is the floral emblem of Haiti and Malaysia.
  3. A hibiscus flower normally lasts only one day, but will remain open for that whole day without needing to be placed in water, making it a greatif short-liveddecoration.

    20181220B KENPEI, Wikimedia Commons

    The variegation of H. rosa-sinensis.‘Cooperi’ is caused by a virus. Source: KENPEI, Wikimedia Commons

  4. The white or white and pink variegated foliage of some hibiscus, such as H. rosa-sinensis Cooperi, is caused by a virus that can be transmitted to other hibiscus plants through grafting. The virus is not considered harmful, but even so, variegated hibiscus bloom much less abundantly than varieties with entirely green leaves.
  5. Rubbed on shoes, hibiscus blooms bring back the natural luster of leather, hence the common name shoe plantor shoeblack plantin India.
  6. The Chinese hibiscus is used as a pharmaceutical plant in traditional medicine in China and many other Asian countries.
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    Is she available? The flower will tell! Source:

    In former times, Polynesian women used wear a hibiscus flower in their hair. If they wore the flower to the right, that meant she was looking for a partner. If she was married, she wore the flower on the left.

  8. A hibiscus flower can be used to determine the pH of a liquid. The flower turns dark pink or magenta in an acidic solution and green in an alkaline one.
  9. Colorful hibiscus flowers are often used as a natural dye.


    Hibiscus flowers float on the Ganges as a offering to Kali. Source:

  10. In the Hindu religion, the flower of the hibiscus represents Kali, the goddess of preservation, transformation and destruction. Believers traditionally give hibiscus flowers as an offering.

Flowering Plants for Mother’s Day



Most nurseries put up Mother’s Day displays filled with interesting gift plants. Source:

Tradition has that you give Mom a bouquet of flowers for her day and that’s fine. Even so, I have another suggestion. Why not give her a living plant, one with beautiful blooms? It will be just as attractive as a bouquet of cut flowers, but will last much longer and, in most cases, she can keep it going for several months or even plant the container outdoors permanently.

When Is Mother’s Day Exactly?

The date Mother’s Day is held varies from country to country, but it usually takes place in the spring. In most countries, including Canada, the United States, and most of Europe, it’s the second Sunday of May, but in Spain, it’s the first Sunday in May and in France, the last Sunday of May. In the United Kingdom, Mothering Day is the 4th Sunday of Lent, so it moves around quite a bit. Australia and New Zealand keep the “second Sunday of May” tradition, which means Mother’s Day takes place in fall.

Here are some flowering gift plants that Mom is sure to appreciate:


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You can’t go wrong when you offer a container of annuals as a Mother’s Day gift. Source: Proven Winners

Be it hanging baskets, flower boxes or planters, you’ll find a huge selection of pots dripping with gorgeous annual flowers—calibrachoas, scaevolas, hybrid alyssums, pelargoniums, etc.—in just about any garden center, the perfect gift for a mother who has a balcony or terrace she’d like to brighten up with bloom. Ask the clerk to help you choose one adapted to Mom’s light situation, always the limiting factor: full sun, partial shade or shade. In areas where springs are still cold at Mother’s Day, she might need to keep the containers indoors for a while, until night temperatures stay reliably above 12 ° C.

Indoor Azalea (Rhododendron simsii)

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Indoor Azalea. Source:

The indoor azalea is covered with a mass of usually double flowers in red, pink, white or two tones. Mom can grow it indoors while it blooms, then put it outdoors for the summer, in a fairly shady spot. Tell her not to bring it back indoors too early in the fall, as azaleas like cool fall temperatures as long as it doesn’t drop below freezing.

Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)


Modern hibiscus, like those in the Hollywood series, are more compact and heavier blooming that older cultivars. Source:

This will be a houseplant for most Moms, but a plant-in-the-ground outdoor shrub if she lives in the tropics. It has huge flowers shaped like parabolic antennas and it will bloom sporadically all spring and summer, even into fall and sometimes winter. Full sun is a big help in getting good bloom. Ma can move it outdoors for the summer if she wants.

Florist’s Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)


Florist’s hydrangea: keep it well watered! Source:

With its huge globes of blue or pink flowers (sometimes other colors), this plant never fails to please. Tell Mom to water it abundantly and often: this plant loses a lot of moisture to the air because of its huge leaves and thus dries out very quickly. This is not a houseplant: after it blooms, Mom will have to acclimatize it to outdoors conditions and plant it in the garden where it will grow in sun or partial shade. With a little luck, it will then bloom again annually. It’s not the hardiest of hydrangeas, though (it’s best suited to zones 6 to 9), and will need winter protection in colder regions.

Lily (Lilium spp.)

20180509H W.H. Zandbergen,

Lilies make stunning temporary houseplants. Source: W.H. Zandbergen,

Pink, red, yellow, orange or white, with flowers shaped like trumpets, stars or turbans, scented or not, potted lilies are always gorgeous. To prolong their effect, buy a pot with many flower buds, but only one or two open flowers, a guarantee of weeks of flowers to come. Lilies are hardy bulbs (most to zone 3 or 4) and can therefore be planted out in a sunny spot in the garden after they bloom. They’ll live for decades in the average garden!

Primrose (Primula spp.)


Polyanthus primrose. Source:

There are many kinds of primroses, many of which are sold as gift plants. Some, such as the German primrose (P. obconica) and the fairy primrose (P. malacoides), are usually considered annuals and die after flowering. Just toss them in the compost. Most of the others, though, and especially the very popular common primrose (P. vulgaris) and its hybrid, the polyanthus primrose (P.x polyantha), are hardy. Indeed, they are classic perennials for the flower bed, most being hardy to zone 3. Plant them out in partial shade in moderately moist soil and they’ll come back year after year.

Rose (Rosa spp.)


Miniature rose. Source:

It’s mostly miniature roses (very hardy) and polyantha roses (moderately hardy) that are sold for Mother’s Day. Often these plants will bloom several times during the summer if given proper care. Plant them in the ground, in full sun, and expect to see them back in bloom for years to come.

Spring Bulbs (Tulipa, Narcissus, Crocus, Hyacinthus, etc.)

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Daffodils and hyacinths make a great combo. Source: Wouter Koppen, ibulb

These are hardy bulbs, so after they bloom, Mom can plant them outdoors in her garden. Look for a spot that is sunny in the spring (these bulbs will be dormant and underground during the summer, so aren’t concerned in the least about summer shade).

Of course, there are many other flowering gift plants that Mom would enjoy on Mother’s Days: cinerarias, flowering shrubs, bromeliads, African violets, orchids, etc. Choose one for Mom considering not only her taste in flowers, but her growing conditions and her ability to keep them going … and then buy one for yourself too. You deserve it!20180509A

Success With Hibiscus Cuttings


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Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). Source:

The Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is a very popular houseplant and is also widely grown as an outdoor shrub in the tropics and subtropics. It’s fairly easy to grow—at least as long as you can offer it full sun and good atmospheric humidity!—but it’s not that easy to propagate. Certainly, efforts to root a hibiscus tip cuttings in a glass of water—a technique I don’t recommend anyway (read Starting Cuttings in Water: Not Such a Good Idea)—are almost always unsuccessful. But if you apply a rooting hormone and slip the cuttings into a good, fairly sterile potting mix, the success rate increases enormously.

Step by Step

Here’s how to do it:

If possible, start in spring or early summer (you can also take cuttings in other seasons, but they take longer to root and the success rate decreases).


Remove the lower leaves and pinch the tip. Source:

With pruning shears, cut off a section of stem tip about 3 to 5 inches (7 to 12 cm) long. Any angle cut from 45˚ to 90˚ is fine. Remove any flower buds and also the leaves at the lower end of the cutting, freeing up about 1 1/4 to 2 inches (3 to 4 cm) of bare stem.

Now, pinch the upper tip. Pinching will slow down the cutting’s green growth, thus direct more energy towards the production of new roots. It also stimulates the budding plant to produce natural rooting hormones. Also, pinching at this stage will encourage improved branching later.

20180306D hormone d'enracineent

Apply rooting hormone. Source:

Apply a rooting hormone to the cut end. You can either pour some into a dish and dip the stem in it or brush it onto the stem with a cotton swab.

Next, insert the cutting into a pot of moist potting soil, make sure that at least two nodes (former leaf junction points) are covered with potting soil, and press lightly so it stands up on its own. To save space and soil, you can put several cuttings in the same pot as long as you separate them later.


Cover to create a greenhouse effect highly beneficial to rooting. Source:

Cover the container with some sort of transparent cover (a plastic dome, a clear plastic bag, a recycled plastic pop bottle, etc.) to create a sort of mini-greenhouse that will keep the humidity extremely high and moderate temperature changes. Place the container in a warm spot (about 75–80 °F/24–27 °C) under medium light (beneath a grow light, for example), but avoid direct sunlight at this point. After all, you want to maintain good, even heat, not boil the poor cuttings!

When New Leaves Appear

When new leaves appear (and that can take between 2 weeks and 2 months depending on a whole host of factors), it’s a sign the cutting has rooted and you can start to acclimatize it to normal indoor conditions, gradually removing the mini-greenhouse covering over a 4- or 5-day period. If you planted several cuttings in the same pot, now is the time to pot them up individually.

That’s all there is to it! You’ll have a nice little hibiscus that will probably begin to bloom in a few months.

You’ll find the young plant will need to be repotted into larger and larger containers as it grows, perhaps even twice the first year. And in mild climates where Chinese hibiscus can be grown outdoors, always acclimatize it gradually to outdoor conditions before planting permanently in the garden.

To learn more about how to grow this Chinese hibiscus as a houseplant, read The Secrets to Growing a Hibiscus Indoors.

Edible Houseplants


Coffee fruit - Coffea arabica

A coffee plant (Coffea arabica) will produce it’s colorful “cherries” indoors.

Question: Are there any houseplants that are both edible and attractive?

Clecio Turgeon

Answer: There are many tropical plants that are both easy to grow indoors and give us something to nibble on or to add to our recipes… but you won’t find many among the most common houseplants we grow. Most “everyday houseplants” are either not considered edible or are even poisonous. The latter group includes such popular plants as philodendrons, dieffenbachias, oleanders and most euphorbias. You don’t want to eat those!

What follows is a description of some the more interesting edible houseplants.

A Growing microgreens on plastic white cup

Micro-greens aren’t really houseplants.

Plants Dropped From the List

I eliminated from the get-go certain plants that I just don’t consider to be houseplants. For example, I didn’t include most of the herbs brought indoors in the fall to grow over the winter, as in my opinion they are not really houseplants and in fact really struggle to survive indoors. You really couldn’t grow them indoors all year.

Nor did I include herbs and vegetables that are sown indoors with a view towards a quick harvest of fresh foliage: sprouts, micro-greens and baby vegetables, for example. Again, in my book, they may be indoor edibles, but they’re not really houseplants. Likewise rooted carrot tops, sprouted sweet potatoes or celery bases sitting in water. They just aren’t houseplants to me.

There are also a few poisonous plants that are edible only after they’re given some kind of special treatment, like cooking, soaking, pounding or being reduced into powder, such as taro (Calocasia esculenta) and variegated manioc (Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’). I didn’t think it was a good idea to include potentially dangerous plants in a list of edible houseplants, as some readers might skip the “fine print”.

Everyday Houseplants That Are Edible

Here are the few common houseplants, ones readily found in almost any garden center, that just happen to be edible.


Calamondin orange (X Citrofortunella microcarpa)

Calamondin Orange (X Citrofortunella microcarpa, syn. X C. mitis)
This is the only citrus commonly offered as a houseplant. It is inevitably already in fruit when you buy it and you just need to give it good conditions (especially, strong light) for it to continue it bloom and produce abundantly. The fruits are very bitter, but they can be used in cooking, especially in the preparation of marmalades. For suggestions of other less widely available indoor citruses, see Indoor Fruits below.

Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
The flowers are edible and often used in herbal tea. Here’s an article about this plant: The Secrets to Growing a Hibiscus Indoors.

Coffee (Coffea arabica)
Young coffee plants, usually scarcely more than seedlings, can easily be found on the market, but may be 2 or 3 years from blooming… and 5 to 6 years before producing enough beans to make a cup of coffee. Occasionally you find more mature plants already producing their highly perfumed white flowers.

You can actually eat the sweet flesh of the coffee “cherries” that follow or simply clean, roast and grind up the “beans” (seeds) to make a delicious drink.


False shamrock (Oxalis triangularis)

False Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, syn. O. regnellii)
The leaves of this popular houseplant can be purple or green, with or without a silvery or pink marking… and they are quite edible, with a sweet/sour taste. This comes from the oxalic acid they contain. However, oxalic acid becomes toxic if eaten raw in large quantities, so moderate your use. Or cook the leaves before use. Just to reassure you, remember that spinach, which we routinely eat, also contains oxalic acid and is also toxic if eaten raw in excessive quantities. As they say, the poison is in the dose: eating a few leaves will not harm you.

Ornamental Pepper (Capiscum annuum and others)
All peppers are edible, even the ones sold as ornamental plants. Be forewarned though that ornamental peppers are hot peppers, indeed, very hot peppers, generally stronger then jalapeños.

You may sometimes see them bearing the label “unfit for human consumption”, though. Why is that? It’s not because the fruit itself is poisonous, but because it was treated with an insecticide that is potentially harmful to humans. Organic gardeners will consider the fruits spoiled for life; others can wait a few weeks, then rinse the fruits before eating them. Both can harvest the seeds and grow them to produce fruits totally safe to eat in the second generation.


Ornamental pineapple (Ananas comosus cv)

Pineapple (Ananas comosus)
There are several varieties of ornamental pineapple, for example with reddish foliage, variegated leaves, colored fruit, etc. And all produce fruits which, although they’re often smaller than commercially grown pineapples, are still edible.

Besides ornamental varieties of pineapple, you can also buy a fresh pineapple and root its crown. And yes, it will eventually produce an edible fruit.


Lemony rose scented geranium (Pelargonium graveolens ‘Lady Plymouth’)

Scented Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens and others)
There are a multitude of varieties of scented geranium with an incredible array of scents: lemon, rose, coconut, apple. peach, strawberry, cloves, etc. In addition to rubbing the foliage to release their scent, you can use their leaves in cooking to impart a delicious aroma to your meal. Richters (Canada) offers an especially wide choice: more than 70 varieties of these highly perfumed plants!


Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa)

Swiss Cheese Plant or Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)
Often mistaken for a philodendron (which is a close relative), the monstera, with its huge, deeply-cut leaves, certainly makes an impressive houseplant. When it reaches maturity, which can take many years, it will flower indoors, producing a white inflorescence recalling a calla lily. And the flower is followed by a sweet-tasting fruit, which is the reason for the botanical epithet deliciosa. The fruit can take 11 to 12 months to mature, and doesn’t change color too visibly at maturity. So how do you know it’s ripe? When the green scales that cover it begin to drop off, it’s ready to eat.

Note that the entire plant, from its roots to its leaves to its immature fruits, is toxic. Only the mature fruit is edible.

Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis)
Yes, tea plants. although not yet as common as the other everyday houseplants presented here, are found more and more often in garden centers. Here is an article about how to grow one: Homegrown Tea in Your Teapot.

Indoor Fruits

There are hundreds of different tropical fruit trees, all of which could theoretically be grown indoors, but most won’t produce for decades, will become too large to make good houseplants or require really extreme growing conditions. Since they are unlikely to ever produce fruit in your home, I excluded them from my list.

In this group of “forbidden fruits”, you’ll find most of the tropical fruits that can be grown from seeds or pits harvested from the fruits you buy, such as avocados (Persea americana), mangos (Mangifera indica), and papayas (Papaya carica). Of course, if you look hard enough, you may be able to find dwarf varieties of these plants that will produce fruits indoors, but otherwise its best to consider most tropical fruits you grow from seed simply as foliage plants!

What follows are a few fruiting plants that are more suitable for growing in our homes and that really do make good edible houseplants.


Barbados cherry (Malphigia glabra)

Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)
Pretty pink flowers, bright red cherrylike fruits on a small shrub that fits neatly into most home decors. What’s not to like?

Cacao Tree (Theobroma cacao)

A challenge to grow and not readily found on the market, a cacao tree can still produce cacao beans at home… if you turn your home into a hot and humid jungle year round.


Key lime (Citrusaurantiifolia) makes an easy-to-grow indoor citrus.

Citrus (Citrus spp., Microcitrus australasica and Fortunella spp.)
As mentioned in the article A Lemon or Orange Tree From Seed?, real lemon trees, orange trees, grapefruit trees, etc. are simply too large and too slow to produce to make good indoor fruit trees, unless you can find grafted dwarf varieties.

Other lesser-known citrus fruits, faster in growth and of a naturally smaller size, make much better indoor plants. This is particularly the case for the Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri) which, despite its name, is not a real lemon, the Key lime (C. x aurantiifolia) and the Australian finger lime (Microcitrus australasica). You can sow any one of these and have fruit 2 years later!

Kumquats (Fortunella spp.) too make excellent indoor fruit trees.

Common Fig (Ficus carica)
It prefers to pass its summer outdoors… and has the bad habit of losing most of its leaves during the winter, leading to a rather stark appearance, but the fig tree still quite readily produces figs indoors. Moreover, its foliage is edible too.


Dwarf banana

Dwarf Banana (Musa spp.)
Even a dwarf banana tree takes up a lot of space indoors (among the smallest cultivars are ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish’ and ‘Truly Tiny’) and also require a lot of heat, humidity and sun to produce fruit. Plus they may take years to produce bananas, but still, most will eventually do so if your conditions are right.

The pink banana (Musa velutina), with pink flowers and fruits, is another small-size edible banana you might like to try, but you’ll have to eat around its large seeds.


Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)

Dwarf Pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)
This is a miniature version of the rather large pomegranate tree whose fruits are found in the supermarket. It forms a small to medium-sized shrub with orange flowers that will readily produce small but nevertheless edible fruits indoors. Even if you grow it from seed (it comes true to type), it will bear blooms and fruits in only a few years.

Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa)

This small thorny shrub with shiny leaves makes a good houseplant and readily produces white flowers and edible red fruits. It is sometimes used as bonsai. Both the stem and leaves, and even the sap, are poisonous. Only the ripe fruit is edible.


Passionfruit (Passiflora edulis)

Passionfruit (Passiflora edulis)
This vigorous climber will need a good trellis, but can produce its white flowers with a purple halo and its purple or yellow fruits (the color depends on the cultivar chosen) in a sunny spot indoors. There are plenty of other species of passionfruit that do well indoors, but only a few produce edible fruit.

Pitahaya or Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus undatus, H. polyrhizus, H. megalanthus and others)
These climbing cacti take up a lot of space, but bloom fairly easily when they reach maturity (after 5 or 6 years), producing enormous white fragrant nocturnal flowers followed by large red or yellow fruits with white flesh that is dotted with tiny black seeds. This is a good example of a plant you can grow to fruiting size from seeds harvested from fruit purchased in the supermarket. You just have to be patient!


Fishbone cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger)

I grow a smaller and closely related cactus, the fishbone cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger), with hanging flattened zigzag stems whose very fragrant nocturnal white flowers often give small edible green fruits… but it’s difficult to judge when they are ripe. It too takes years to begin to bloom, but once it starts, it will faithfully continue to do so.

Pixie Grape (Vitis x Pixie® Pinot Meunier)

A dwarf mutation of the Pinot Meunier grape vine which produces fruit all year on a small plant… and its leaves are edible too. It can be grown as a houseplant, but is also hardy outdoors.


Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Roselle (Hibiscus sabadariffa)
This shrub with small yellow hibiscus flowers grows quickly from seed. In fact, you can treat is an annual if you wish. It produces red fruits often used in drinks and jellies.

Indoor Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices flavor our meals and often have medicinal uses as well. I limited the choice here to varieties that really make decent houseplants.

Bayleaf (Laurus nobilis)
In my opinion, this is the only “classic” herb that grows well enough indoors to make a good houseplant. It will grow indoors for years, eventually forming a tall shrub if you don’t prune it. The leaves can simply be plucked and used fresh as needed.

Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
This climbing plant produces smooth shiny leaves and long spikes of green berries that turn red at maturity and is not difficult to grow indoors if you can offer good humidity. The berries give black, white or red pepper, depending on the treatment you give them.


Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
You can readily grow ginger from rhizomes purchased locally. Beware though that the rhizomes offered in many supermarkets were treated chemically or irradiated in order prevent them from sprouting. There is no use planting those! You need live rhizomes, with buds indicating they are ready to sprout. An Asian supermarket should have some.

Just push a section of rhizome into a pot of growing mix and water: a green rather bamboolike plant will soon start to sprout. Over time, the rhizome will spread and you can then harvest and eat any surplus. Don’t expect this plant to flower indoors, though: it almost never does.

Other spices in the ginger family also produce edible rhizomes and likewise make excellent houseplants: galanga (Alpinia galanga), turmeric (Cucurma longa) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) are only a few examples.


Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)

Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)
This is a bulbous plant with grasslike leaves and small pink trumpet flowers. The whole plant smells like garlic. If you use the edible leaves and flowers in your cooking, they’ll give the meal a garlicky scent, but without the bad breath that follows eating real garlic. The name society garlic come from the idea that you could safely eat it before attending polite society functions.


The variegated forme of Spanish thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus ‘Variegatus’) is probably more popular than the species.

Spanish Thyme or Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)
This plant is neither a thyme (Thymus spp.) nor an oregano (Origanum spp.), but rather a tropical plant closely related to the coleus (Coleus scutellaroides, syn. Plectranthus scutellarioides). It’s a very popular herb in tropical countries where its thick leaves lend taste of oregano to cooked dishes. It’s very easy to grow.

Stevia or Sweetleaf (Stevia rebaudiana)
Increasingly popular for its sweet leaves that give dishes a sugary flavor without adding calories… and it makes a decent houseplant.

Indoor Vegetables

There aren’t many plants you could call vegetables that also make good houseplants. I could only think of the following two:


Malabar spinach (Basel alba ‘Rubra’)

Malabar Spinach (Basella alba)
An ornamental climber with mucilaginous leaves used to replace spinach, Malabar spinach is often grown in hot climates where real spinach doesn’t grow well. The species itself produces green stems and white flowers, but B. alba ‘Rubra’, perhaps even more commonly grown, has reddish stems and pink flowers. Both are very easy to grow.


Spineless nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica ‘Burbank Spineless’)

Nopal or Barbary Fig (Opuntia ficus-indica and others)
Many different opuntias are used as nopals, but Barbary fig is the most common one. This cactus with flattened pads does produce edible fruits called Barbary figs when grown outdoors in a hot, dry climate, but indoors it rarely blooms, let alone produces fruit. It made it onto my “edible houseplant list” by virtue of its edible pads.

Nopal is the name commonly used in Mexico for the pads treated as a vegetable. You’ll probably need several plants if you want to start harvest nopals, as the plant is very slow growing. You have to singe off the spines before you eat the pads… or use spineless (or nearly spineless) cultivars like ‘Burbank Spineless’.

This plant will need full sun to do well indoors. And yes, you can root a pad from the grocery store to start a new plant.

Where to Find Edible Houseplants?

Many of the plants above are not found in just any garden center, so here are few places where you might want to look for them on the Web.

For herbs and species, try Richters, a Canadian company that ships to the US and probably offers more choices of herbs than any other.

For unusual fruits and vegetables, try Flora Exotica, also a Canadian company that ships to the US, while Top Tropicals is an American company that ships to Canada and many other countries worldwide. Logee’s, in the US, is a good source for American readers, but no longer ships to Canada.

For European readers, try AlsaPlants. If you know of any other good mail-order sources of indoor edibles in Europe, let me know and I’ll add them to this text.

Bon appétit!

The Secrets to Growing Hibiscus Indoors



Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

I get more questions about growing hibiscus as a houseplant than almost any other plant. Why? Because it often behaves very badly indoors. You’ll find it’s a capricious plant under average home conditions… but still it can be grown successfully indoors.

Would you like to learn how? Well, let’s start at the beginning, that is, by choosing the right plant!

Choosing the Right Hibiscus

The genus Hibiscus in the Malvaceae (mallow family) includes more than 200 species, including annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. Most of these do not make good houseplants. In this article, therefore, I’ll cover only one species, the Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), by far the most popular species offered for indoor use.

This plant is of tropical origin and therefore grows best under tropical conditions. That means, in temperate climates, outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter.

The perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos, at left) and the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus, at right) are two hibiscus species that should be left outdoors all year.

Among the hibiscus you should not bring indoors are the perennial hibiscus (H. moscheutos and related species) and the rose of Sharon (H. syriacus). These are outdoor plants, best left in your garden all year. I find it important to point out the difference, as many beginning gardeners presume a hibiscus is a hibiscus and bring the wrong plant indoors.



Cultivars of Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

What you want as a houseplant is the Chinese hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis), so named because the first cultivars to reach Europe were sent from China. It has never been found in the wild, but botanists believe it’s not native to China, but somewhere rather further south in Asia, perhaps Malaysia or the Pacific islands.

In actual fact, the true H. rosa-sinensis is rarely cultivated. Most varieties offered these days are the result of over 1,000 years of crosses often involving other hibiscus species.


In the tropics, the Chinese hibiscus can form a small tree.

The Chinese hibiscus is a shrub or small tree with woody stems from 3 to 16 feet (1 to 5 m) tall. Its evergreen leaves are shiny dark green (some cultivars have variegated foliage) and elliptic with a toothed margin and a pointed tip.


Chinese hibiscus flower: note the staminal column in the center.

The flowers bear 5 petals, sometimes with a frilly edge, and resemble a funnel in appearance. Or you might like to think of them as looking like a satellite dish. They include a central column composed of a 5-lobed stigma and many yellow stamens.

The original petal color was red, but there is now a wide range of colors: pink, yellow, orange, white, and even, in fancy hibiscus, shades of violet and blue. Often there is a red central eye. Some varieties have double flowers.

Flowers can measure from 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) in diameter, even up to 8 inches (20 cm) for fancy varieties.

Sadly, the flowers last for only one day (sometimes 2 or even 3 days for some modern cultivars), but the plant produces others over a long flowering season, almost all year under optimal conditions.

Common Hibiscus or Fancy Hibiscus?

The Chinese hibiscus commonly sold in garden centers has relatively small (about 4 inches/10 cm in diameter), solid-colored flowers often with a red eye. They are usually single, though sometimes double. I simply call this type a “common hibiscus”. It tends to produce several flowers at once and to bloom over a long period. It is often sold without a cultivar name. Quite honestly, common varieties are probably the best choices for the average houseplant lover, if only because they bloom so much more than fancy hibiscus.


Fancy hibiscus come in an amazing array of colours and forms!

Fancy hibiscus are more striking plants, often with dinner-plate-sized, multicolored flowers. Once you’ve seen these “collector’s items”, it’s hard to resist trying one. But you might be disappointed with the results. They don’t flower as abundantly or as regularly as common varieties, often only during the summer and even then, only sporadically.

Fancy varieties are hard to find locally, unless you happen to live in the tropics where there may be specialized local nurseries. Most of us have to order fancy varieties by mail.

They also tend to be hard to root from cuttings. Sometimes the only way of propagating one is by grafting it onto a more vigorous common rootstock. And yes, they are also far more expensive than common hibiscus.

When Growth Retardants Wear Off

The typical common hibiscus sold in garden centers has been treated with a growth retardant (i.e. growth hormones). This chemical stimulates a reduction in stem length without affecting flowering. (In fact, it tends to increase bloom!) The plant then remains compact and densely leafy for 6 months to a year or more, and by that time you take for granted that this low, dense habit is your hibiscus’s natural look. You’ll then get quite a shock when all of a sudden your little hibiscus starts sending up much longer branches with well-spaced leaf nodes, leading to a much sparser appearance and turning your plant from a dense mound to a space-consuming shrub.


You’ll need to prune your hibiscus if you want to keep it compact.

But of course, this is simply a return to a normal hibiscus growth pattern. Since growth retardants (Cycoel, Bonzi, etc.) are not easily available to consumers, you’re only way of controlling the growth of your hibiscus once the growth retardant has worn off is by pruning (more on that later).

General Culture

In this section, I’m limiting my comments on to how to grow a Chinese hibiscus in a temperate climate, one where it will be spending the winters indoors. This is quite different from how you would handle a hibiscus if you were growing it in the ground year long, most likely in hardiness zones 9 to 12. I’ll leave explanations on its outdoor culture to others.

The Chinese hibiscus is not an easy-to-grow houseplant. It takes some experience to grow it well and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner. Learn how to grow foliage plants like dracenas and philodendrons and simpler flowering plants like peace lilies and African violets before you embark on trying to grow a hibiscus!

Do note that it’s best to treat the Chinese hibiscus as either an indoor plant that spends the summer outdoors or a summer plant that spends the winter indoors. Hibiscus grown indoors all year long tend to become rather wimpy.



Hibiscus inevitably need to grow near a sunny window.

Hibiscus need a lot of sunshine to do well. During the winter, place it in the sunniest place you have, probably near a south-facing window. When the sun begins to intensify in the spring, you may find in necessary to move it back from the window, at least during the hottest hours of the day. But in any season, it will always need bright light to bloom well.

If light is lacking, you can grow a hibiscus under intense artificial lighting: a 4-tube fluorescent light, for example. Use a timer to provide 16 hours of light per day. However, it remains difficult to give such a large plant adequate light: often a plant grown under artificial lighting is green and floriferous at the top, but loses most of its lower leaves.

In late spring or early summer, when the night temperatures remain above 50˚C (10˚C), begin to acclimatize the plant to outdoor conditions by placing it in the shade for a few days, then partial shade for a few more before exposing it to full sun.


While your hibiscus is actively growing, water it abundantly as soon as the soil is dry to the touch. Depending on growing conditions, the size of the pot and the size of the plant, that can be as often as every 4 days or as infrequently as every 2 weeks.

Don’t let the leaves wilt from lack of water! Yes, the plant will likely recover, but each time it wilts, it loses more leaves and more flower buds. If your plant is constantly wilting, it’s probably seriously root bound: repot it into a larger pot.

If you put your plant into semi-dormancy (more on that later), keep it much drier, watering it just enough so it doesn’t dry up entirely.


20170113O.jpgNormal indoor temperatures suit this plant fine. Although it can tolerate temperatures as low as 30 or even 28˚F (-1 or -2˚C) for very short periods, it won’t like them. To keep yours growing all year long, you’ll need temperatures above 50˚C (10˚C). Many people find it easier to grow a bit on the cool side (about 60˚F/15˚C) over the winter, as this reduces watering needs and helps keep insect pests at bay, but that isn’t an absolute requirement.

As mentioned, don’t move it outdoors in summer until night temperatures remain above 50˚C (10˚C).

Curiously, despite its tropical origins, your hibiscus may drop its flower buds when temperatures soar to above 90˚F/32˚C). During a heatwave, it may therefore be worthwhile to move it at least temporarily to a shadier, cooler location.


Avoid exposing your hibiscus to dry air: it’s the major cause of the bud drop so many indoor gardeners complain of and it also contributes to leaf yellowing and insect infestations. Yet the air in most homes is desperately dry during the heating season. That’s why it’s is better to use a humidifier or humidity tray to satisfy this plant’s needs over the winter months.


This plant is a heavy feeder. It enjoys regular fertilization, but unless you’re growing it under artificial light, it’s still best to encourage it to slow down a bit during the winter by not fertilizing it between October and the end of February. During the growing season, use the fertilizer of your choice, reducing the rate to a quarter of the recommended dosage.


A hibiscus blooms best when it’s a bit underpotted. In most cases, repotting into a slightly larger pot will only be necessary every 2 to 3 years. Any houseplant potting soil will be fine. The best time for repotting is late winter (late February or March).



Hibiscus can be sold as standards, that is, pruned into a treelike shape. You can turn any hibiscus into a standard by careful pruning.

A lot of gardeners hesitate to prune their hibiscus since it blooms at the branch tips. It’s thus very obvious that pruning will always eliminate some of the flowers to come. In fact, it will take several months for the new branches stimulated by pruning to start producing flowers. On the other hand, you don’t prune it, it becomes overgrown and ungainly. It’s one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations.

My recommended approach depends on your growing conditions.

If you have ideal growing conditions – high light, high humidity, moderate to warm temperatures, etc. – and therefore a situation where your hibiscus ought to be able to flower all year, make a habit to cutting back the longest branch or two to about two thirds of its length every 3 months. This will stimulate the growth of new branches that will bloom in a more distant future, yet will still leave the plant with older bud-bearing branches that will bloom over the coming weeks. As a result of this selective and gradual pruning, you’ll get bloom throughout the year on a plant whose height is still being kept under control.


Prune back harshly in late winter for bloom all summer.

On the other hand, if your hibiscus is simply holding on over the winter due to a lack of light and not doing much in the way of growth or blooming (the usual situation in most homes), wait until late February, then cut all the branches back by two-thirds. This will give you a more compact and symmetrical plant that will start bloom just in time for the summer.

Bringing Your Hibiscus Back Indoors


Massive leaf yellowing due to bringing a hibiscus back indoors too late in the season.

The worse mistake beginners make with their hibiscus is bringing it back indoors too late. When you leave it outdoors until late in the season, say until the end of September or into October, it will acclimatize to the cooling nights and higher humidity. Imagine its shock when you suddenly bring in indoors to the heat and dry air of your home! The plant usually reacts by rejecting most of its leaves, which turn yellow and drop off. It also creates a perfect situation for insect pests: they really proliferate on stressed-out plants.

Instead, bring your plant back indoors early, in late August or early September, when conditions indoors and out are approximately identical. Thus, there is no stress, very little leaf yellowing, and fewer insect infestations.

Give your hibiscus a thorough cleaning before you bring it back indoors. You don’t want any insects to come with it! For more information on this, I refer you to Time to Bring Your Houseplants Back Indoors.


Most people have no choice other than to grow their hibiscus at room temperatures, but if you have access to a barely-heated room, one that stays about 40˚F (5˚C) all winter, even if it has no lighting, you can force your plant into a sort of semi-dormancy that will at least keep it alive over the winter.

Your plant will not like this treatment and will lose almost all its leaves, but with this kind of cold treatment plus minimal watering (only water it enough to keep it from dying out completely), you can at least keep it alive until spring. Then it will recuperate when you move it to back to brighter conditions and start to water it again.


You can multiply your hibiscus through stem cuttings, air layering or grafting, but usually only stem cuttings are used by home gardeners. Forget about growing it from any seed it produces: it won’t come true to type.

Many people complain about having trouble getting hibiscus cuttings to root… usually because they try to root them in water (an old-fashioned technique that really ought to be banned).

If you really want to succeed with hibiscus stem cuttings, here’s what to do:


Root hibiscus under high humidity.

  1. In spring or early summer, cut terminal sections of stem about 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) in length.
  2. Remove any flowers or flower buds as well as any leaves on the bottom half of the cutting.
  3. Apply a rooting hormone to the cut end with a cotton swab.
  4. Insert the cutting into a pot or tray of moist growing mix.
  5. Cover it with a dome or transparent plastic bag to keep the humidity high.
  6. Place it in a warm spot, about 75 to 80˚F (24-27ºC), under medium lighting. Don’t expose the cuttings to full sun as this point or they’ll overheat.
  7. When new leaves appear (and that can take from 3 weeks to 2 months), that means the cutting is rooted and you can begin to acclimate it to normal indoor conditions.

There, that wasn’t that difficult, was it?

Insects and Diseases


Aphids are attacking this hibiscus. Photo: Éric Trépanier

A stressed-out hibiscus is a magnet for unwanted insects. Mealybugs, whiteflies, aphids and red spider mites like nothing better than a weakened hibiscus plant! Therefore step number one in keeping your hibiscus healthy is to ensure that it receives adequate lighting and high atmospheric humidity. Also, cooler temperatures in winter (down to 60˚F/15˚C) tend to discourage pests as well.

Even when you’ve done everything right, pests can still appear, so keep your eyes open. If you see any pests, spray the plant thoroughly with insecticidal soap (not dishwashing detergent) and repeat every 4 to 5 days until you see no more pests.

As for diseases, they’re pretty rare indoors, although hibiscus grown outdoors in the tropics are subject to a few of them

For Further Information

If you are very interested in hibiscus, here are two associations you might want to join: the International Hibiscus Society (the photos on its web site are amazing!) and the American Hibiscus Society.20170113a