Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (the Chinese hibiscus) is a shrub in the Malvaceae family (like mauve). It is originally from Southeast Asia, and can reach 4 to 5 metres in height in New Caledonia. It is easy to multiply using cuttings.
Hibiscus rosasinensis Pouébo. © Bernard Suprin
All rights reserved
There are very many varieties and cultivars with large multicoloured flowers and generally a more modest size. Varieties with very large flowers are locally called the Hawaiian hibiscus. Flowers of some varieties of this hibiscus can measure up to 20 cm in diameter. They can be single or double, and of different colours:white, cream, yellow, orange, pink and red. These sophisticated varieties are multiplied by grafting.
The Chinese hibiscus is a tropical shrub. As it cuts well and flowers prolifically, it is generally placed in parks and gardens as live hedges. It is one of the most popular garden plants in New Caledonia.
Alongside a few other plants, this plant symbolises the Tropics. This is a known fact, and does not need to be discussed. But where does it come from? When was it introduced into France? The answers will surprise you.
Hibiscus rosasinensis juvenile. © Bernard Suprin
All rights reserved
Origins of the Chinese hibiscus
Hibiscus rosasinensis is originally from Southeast China. This plant has a complicated and eventful history. Currently, it would seem that this species is no longer found in the wild. Due to the attractive qualities of its flowers and its easy transport by cuttings or by seeds, it has accompanied man in migrations from West to East, from Asia to the Pacific.
The migration of the hibiscus was probably staggered over dozens or even hundreds of years. From the Asian continent to Europe, there is a continuous chain of islands that leads to France, the largest inlet separating the Salomon archipelago from the Vanuatu archipelago. This very favourable configuration explains the ease of these migrations.
Thus, like many other ornamental or food-producing plants, the hibiscus followed man in his travels world and was introduced into New Caledonia well before the European period. The botanist Forster (in 1786) who accompanied Captain Cook refers to it as Passim inter tropicos. As for Père Montrouzier, he observed the double cultivated form as soon as 1860!
Hibiscus rosasinensis Fruits. © Bernard Suprin All rights reserved
Fruit of the Chinese hibiscus
The fruit of the hibiscus are rarely found in New Caledonia. The botanist Hugh McKee (who died in 1995) told us that he had never seen its fruit during his long travels in the territory (no more than those of the bougainvillea). We were recently lucky enough to be able to see some in the forest, on the path leading to the Dranine beach (Maré). This is probably because this island hhas a specific climate (the coolest temperatures in the area are recorded in Roche).
Author: Bernard Suprin