How can this be called a hibiscus, I wondered, looking at pictures of the Sunset Hibiscus after someone gave me some seeds for it; it looks more like an oversized okra flower! Nevertheless, I was game to try growing this new plant. You know me and my penchant for growing plants from seeds…
And it was fairly easy to get these seeds to germinate. Once sprouted, they went into small, temporary pots until they could be transferred to a 16cm pot. Those went out in the garden to get full sun.
The plants grew to about 30cm before they started budding. I was again bemused when I saw the flowers, because they really look like big, floppy okra flowers! The only similarities to hibiscus seemed to be the shape and size.
After the flowers finished blooming – within a single day – fruits followed. Again, I had to compare them with okra, because the Sunset Hibiscus fruits were like really short, stunted okra fruits. Just look at the picture! They’re even segmented the same way, as I discovered when I broke open a dry pod to look at the interior.
Like okra plants, the leaves, fruits and stems of the Sunset Hibiscus plants are covered in short, prickly bristles. You have to be careful when handling them.
And, as I always do, I started doing more research on the plants after they had gone through the first cycle of growing and fruiting – it makes growing the plants an adventure when you’re not sure what to expect! What I learned was that the proper name for this plant is Abelmoschus manihot, or Aibika as it’s called in Papua New Guinea. They grow it for the edible leaves, which are apparently high in leaf protein, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. That sounds pretty nutritious to me!
From what I read about the uses of the plant:
- Young leaves are tender, sweet and mucilaginous. They can be used in soups, served raw, steamed, fried or blanched.
- Flower petals can be used raw in salads or cooked.
- Reportedly, the bark and roots have medicinal uses – but I don’t have firsthand knowledge of this, and I’m not going to experiment!
The Sunset Hibiscus is a perennial and grows best in tropical and subtropical regions. Put it in a sunny spot with rich, moist, well-drained soil and it will be happy.