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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

Click here

Hibiscus syriacus
(althaea, althea, rose of Sharon)
Malvaceae (mallow family)
Zones 5-9 (all of the South)

These beautiful shrubs have been neglected and their advantages for lawn decorations, as single plants or in clumps or hedges, overlooked. They bloom from May till fall, during our hottest, driest weather, when flowers are scarce. They do not require watering, and demand little attention. They are decided acquisitions to any flower garden. Rosedale Nurseries Catalog, Brenham, Texas, 1899.

Hibiscus syriacus is a native of India and China. In China where it has been cultivated for as long as records exist, both the leaves and flowers were used as food. In 1597 Gerard planted seeds of the "Tree Mallow" and in 1629 Parkinson cultivated it. In 1759 Miller described seven kinds: "the most common hath purple Flowers with dark Bottoms, another hath bright purple Flowers with black Bottoms, a third hath white Flowers with purple Bottoms, a fourth variegated Flowers with dark Bottoms, and a fifth pale yellow flowers with dark Bottoms but the last is very rare at present in the English Gardens; there are also two with variegated leaves which are by some much esteemed." In 1778 Abercrombie called the plant "the greatest ornament of the autumn season, of almost any of the shrubby tribe..." Double flowered forms aren't mentioned until 1838 when Loudon said they were common.

Althaeas have been in southern gardens from the beginning of our gardening heritage. Thomas Jefferson planted althaea seeds at Shadwell in April of 1767 and set out plants at Monticello in March of 1794 and also at Poplar Forest in December of 1812.

Althaeas were carried by almost all early southern nurseries dealing in ornamentals. In a poll of 19 nurseries from 1851-1906 16 of them offered althaea, making it the most popular southern nursery plant, just ahead of arborvitae, honeysuckles and roses. Thomas Affleck's Southern Nurseries, at Washington, Mississippi, listed "Fine new double Althaeas, a dozen sorts" in the 1851-52 catalog. Montgomery Nurseries (Alabama) also listed althaea in their 1860 catalog. Established in Brenham in 1860, one of the earliest in Texas, Rosedale Nurseries stated in a 1901 catalog: "We can supply about twenty named varieties in Single and Double; White, Pink, Red, Purple, and all their modifications and combinations; also the Variegated-leaved, with purple flowers."

Althaeas, in all their forms, are still supremely adapted to our gardens today. The future may even be better however. In the sixties, the late Dr. Donald Egolf, formerly of the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., and well known for his many crape myrtle hybrids, developed a series of sterile triploids which have larger, earlier flowers, and little to no seed development. They are: 'Diana' (white), 'Helene' (white with maroon throat), 'Minerva' (lavender), and 'Aphrodite' (pink). These new types have grown just as well for me as the old standards. They seem to bloom a bit earlier and have larger flowers. I have had some seed development however.

There is also an almost true pale blue one named 'Bluebird' which will form the background of the blue section of my newly evolving rainbow border. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble finding enough glass Milk of Magnesia bottles for my blue bottle tree, the "focal point" of the border. What would Gertrude think?

Althaeas are very easy to cultivate in just about any soil that is well drained and located in part to full sun, preferring the latter. They are, however, susceptible to cotton root rot in areas with alkaline soils. They can be grown as either shrubs or limbed up to small trees. Propagation is by seeds, if you aren't picky about the offspring, or cuttings rooted under high humidity.

Most people have quit using Althaeas today in favor of the more popular crape myrtle. In this new era of plant diversification and old fashioned plants, the time is right for the rose of Sharon to obtain her rightful place as the queen of the southern garden...or at least a princess.