A Beloved Tropical Flower Blossom
The hibiscus flower is known around the world as a beautiful flower of tropical climates. For many, it's beauty is reminiscent of an island paradise. Though, some hardy hibiscus species will tolerate more temperate climates. Hibiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon, is one such variety.
This charming plant comes in a variety of colors and species from the prized purple hibiscus to more delicate varieties like the pink hibiscus flower. Here we will explore these iconic tropical flowers, the symbolism behind the hibiscus plant as well as some of it's historical and current uses.
"When a flower doesn't bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. "
-Alexander Den Heijer
"Electric Duo"Hibiscus flower painting by tropical flower artist Karen Whitworth
Hibiscus Flower Meaning
The hibiscus flower grows in warm climates around the globe. Along with the rich diversity found on our planet, this flower's cultural importance varies from one region to the next. In English, the Hibiscus name can be traced back to the Greek word "hibiskos." The first known use of this word was penned by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek Pharmacologist and botanist. (40-90AD)
Hibiscus Flower Symbolism From Around the World
"Sunrise Sonnet" hibiscus painting by Karen Whitworth
Hawaiian State Flower, Culture, and Uses of the Hibiscus Flower
Unlike the many natural red hibiscus flower species found around the world, an endemic Hawaiian hibiscus variety is brilliant yellow in color. The scientific name for this variety, is Hibiscus brackenridgei. It is known as Ma'o hau hele in the Native Hawaiian language. This yellow hibiscus is the official state flower of Hawaii, but there are several other hibiscus varieties in Hawaii as well. These flowers were used in many ways from functional to ornamental.
Functional Uses of Hibiscus Flower Species in Hawaiian Culture
- Cordage - The bark of the hibiscus was used to make very strong cording. Some of the places it was used include: securing the boom on an outrigger canoe, paddles, making the straps on sandals, and sewing bark cloth together. Today, the hibiscus species hibiscus sabdariffa is used in a similar way, being grown for it's fibers which are used to make product from natural jute.
- Medicinal Remedies - Hibiscus was used to treat stomach ailments.
- Charcoal - The wood from the hibiscus plant was used to make pieces of fine charcoal.
Ornamental Uses of Hibiscus Flowers in Hawaiian Culture
- Lei making - Beautiful but short lived. Hibiscus flowers don't last long on the bush, with each bloom fading after a single day. So you can imagine how important it is that a lei of hibiscus flowers must be enjoyed immediately.
- Hair/ear adornment - A sign of beauty placed in one's hair, or tucked behind an ear, these big, gorgeous blossoms add vibrant color to the wearer's attire. But be careful which ear you choose to place it on! When a hibiscus is tucked behind your right ear in Hawaii and Tahiti, it symbolizes the wearer is single and looking for a relationship! :)
"Past Present Future" Hawaiian hibiscus painting by Karen Whitworth
The Bunga Raya, or Hibiscus Flower, is a Pivotal Part of Malaysia's History
The official national flower of Malaysia, the hibiscus has the local name of Bunga Raya. In the local Malay language, this translates to "big flower". Fitting, right? :) In it's natural varieties, the tropical hibiscus flower is often red. In Malaysia, these red flowers symbolize great courage.
Rukun Negara and the Red Hibiscus Flower
The five petals of the hibiscus are also carry the symbolic meaning of the foundation for the Rukun Negara, Malaysia's national philosophy. This philosophy which was officially adopted in 1970, was specifically designed to unite the country towards unity and inclusion of all races, making the visual impact of the hibiscus flower even more beautiful and a powerful part of Malaysian heritage.
"Red Hot Hibiscus" hibiscus painting by Karen Whitworth
The Unofficial Flower of Haiti
Though not the official national flower, the hibiscus flower is prized on the island nation of Haiti and has been adopted by many to be their national symbol.
This flower is used in many ways, just as in Hawaii. From practical uses in herbal medicine as with hibiscus extract which is said to have antiviral qualities, boost the immune system, regulate cholesterol and more, even used in shoe polish, fabric die, to food and popular health drinks like hibiscus tea and juice, it is easy to see why his plant is widely praised.
Not just beautiful, the hibiscus flower is a versatile and useful flower in everyday Haitian life.
"Gentle Radiance" hibiscus painting by Karen Whitworth