Hibiscus sabdariffa | Florida Cranberry Hibiscus (not to be confused with Cranberry Hibiscus –Hibiscus acetosella)
Florida Cranberry Hibiscus, also commonly called Roselle, Maple Leaf Hibiscus, October Hibiscus, Jamaican Sorrel, Indian Sorrel, Red Sorrel, and Sour Sour, is a tropical annual that’s a member of the Mallow family and is related to Okra. Roselle plants have deep-green leaves. The young foliage is a simple single-lobed leaf, and as the plant grows larger, the young leaves will mature into three to five lobed leaves with the classic five-petaled flowers of creamy pale-yellow with tinges of pink and a deep cranberry-red eye. The petals are edible, though they are not the part of the plant that is typically consumed. The part that’s collected is the succulent, fleshy, deep cranberry-colored calyx’s (fruit) that form just beneath the flower head and surround the seed pod. They are at their juiciest after the flower has shriveled up. They will need to be collected before they start to form the hard seed casing.
In hardiness zones 9 through 11, it can be grown as an herbaceous perennial. In zones 3 through 8, it is a rapid growing annual. Florida Cranberry Hibiscus grows great in a warm environment and likes extra water, but won’t tolerate cold and wet conditions for long. It’s a ‘short day’ plant, meaning it needs 11 or more hours of darkness to promote abundant flowering. Depending on your location, blooming starts as early as August and continues through September into October. The seed pods take a few weeks to mature and can be harvested in October, November, and December. A planting zone with a long growing season is needed for the pods to mature. Warmer planting zones provide enough warm months for a good harvest after blooming. When planted in cooler zones, there may not be enough time for the plant to be productive, so if one wishes to harvest from it, it will likely have to be brought inside a sun room or indoor garden with plenty of lumens to finish. In our zone 8 garden we were able to collect some seeds in October outdoors.
Florida Cranberry Hibiscus makes an exceptional container plant or can be grown in the ground. Its deep root system makes this plant quite drought tolerant. The contrast of its dark red stems and red-veined green leaves makes quite a statement in the garden.
Sow seeds in spring after the last frost in a warm, sunny location. Or start seeds indoors and transplant outdoors after the weather warms up. Keep soil moist.
Rosella hemp, which is extracted from the stems, is a strong fiber that is used for making sacks, twine and cords. However, it’s main use is as a culinary ingredient, a natural food dye, and as an herb, specifically for heart health, which when consumed regularly has been known to lower blood pressure over 10%. It’s a good source of calcium, niacin, riboflavin, iron, antioxidants and vitamin C. It has been used to treat colds, hypertension, poor circulation, and even hangovers. Roselle is used raw, dried or juiced. The concentrated juice is deep crimson and can be used as a natural food coloring for icing, dough or cake batter. The fruit’s tart flavor usually requires a sweetener of some kind, and is successfully used similar to cranberries in recipes for jam, jellies, chutney and wine. Dried Roselle is commonly steeped for hibiscus tea or agua fresca, too.Sow seeds in spring/summer after last frost in a warm, sunny location. Or start seeds indoors and transplant when weather warms. Keep soil moist.
Sun exposure: Full sun
Mature height: 3-6 ft
Mature width: 1-3 ft
Hardiness zones: Annual in zones 3-8; perennial in zones 9-11