Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus: Key Differences Between Two Floral Beauties

Written by Em Casalena
Updated: October 30, 2023
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Hibiscus is a well-liked flower for backyard gardens. Hibiscus species come in a wide range of variations, but they can be broadly divided into two groups: tropical and hardy. It is crucial to distinguish between tropical and hardy hibiscus in order to properly grow them. According to the USDA’s hardiness zone map, tropical hibiscus thrive in the warmest regions. Hardy hibiscus can withstand harsh winter conditions and grow in cold climates.

In this guide, we’ll compare two different hardy hibiscus species and tropical hibiscus species: hibiscus moscheutos and hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Both of these plants are absolutely stunning, but there’s a good chance only one will do well in your specific climate.

Comparing Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus

Hardy HibiscusTropical Hibiscus
ClassificationHibiscus moscheutosHibiscus rosa-sinensis
Alternative NamesRose Mallow, Wild Cotton, Crimsoneyed RosemallowChinese Hibiscus
OriginCanada, United StatesPossibly China, Japan, or Pacific Islands
DescriptionA herbaceous perennial with vibrant flowers that can grow up to seven feet tall.A tropical evergreen flower that has brightly-colored blooms and can grow up to 10 feet tall.
UsesOrnamental plants and houseplants, traditional medicine.Ornamental plants and houseplants, textiles, food, traditional medicine.
Growth TipsPlant in moist soil with lots of organic material, silt, and sand.Provide full sun or partial shade and plant in soil with excellent drainage.
Interesting FeaturesAs a wildflower, it can attract many different types of pollinators.Known for having beautiful tropical flowers that are used for flower arrangement and landscaping.

Does Hardy Hibiscus Multiply?

A plant cultivated from a cutting will closely resemble the parent plant in terms of flower, shape, and leaves. To achieve this, the simplest method for propagating hibiscus is through hardwood cuttings, which are best taken during the final month of winter or early spring.

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Whether it’s hardy or tropical hibiscus, the preferred method for propagation is through cuttings.

Hibiscus cuttings are favored because they yield an exact replica of the parent plant, ensuring that the new plant will closely match its original counterpart.

The Key Differences Between Hardy Hibiscus and Tropical Hibiscus

The main distinction between tropical and hardy hibiscus is that the former is not hardy below zone 9. Tropical hibiscus cannot withstand prolonged cold exposure and cannot endure temperatures below freezing. Hardy hibiscus can withstand subfreezing temperatures and endure harsh northern winters. While they typically die back for the winter, they do reappear in the spring and frequently sprout new growth from the roots. Hardiness zones 5 through 9 are not a problem for hardy hibiscus.

The origins of the hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus differ noticeably as well. Tropical, warm, and wet areas of the world are home to tropical hibiscus. Tropical hibiscus plants do shed their leaves, but they remain green all year and sprout new growth when the old ones wither and fall off. They can only be grown outside in warm climates with mild winters, occasional cold spells, and constant temperatures above freezing. Hardy hibiscus are indigenous to regions with chilly, severe winters. In the winter, the majority of hardy hibiscus types wither away to the ground. The tops of the roots sprout new growth in the spring.

Hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus have quite different blooming seasons. The tropical hibiscus has a lengthy flowering period that lasts from early spring to late fall. The blooming season is shorter for the hardy hibiscus.

Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus: Classification

Both hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus are, obviously, both part of the hibiscus genus. Hardy hibiscus is classified as hibiscus moscheutos and tropical hibiscus is classified as hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Both of these species are related to comfortroot, bush roselle, the Arizona rosemallow, Congo mahoe, and many other types of hibiscus.

Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus: Description

Hardy hibiscus is an herbaceous perennial that can reach heights of five to seven feet. The leaves have a serrated edge and are alternating. Three lobes are possible on lower leaves. Summer is when the burgundy centers of the white blooms begin to ripen, and early October is when they finish. In various regions of the southern United States, hardy hibiscus can be found. It is a native of marshes and creek borders in the southeastern United States. It prefers full to partial sun and damp to continuously moist soils with organic material that contain loam, silt, or some sand. On small, compact plants, cultivars’ flowers can be up to one foot across and come in a variety of colors. Additionally, this plant can tolerate some salt.

The tropical hibiscus is a tropical evergreen shrub that is well-known for its large, beautiful blossoms, which can grow to be up to six inches wide. Although it typically only grows to a height of around 10 feet, it is a bushy, evergreen shrub or small tree that can grow up to 16 feet tall. The plant’s taproot is branching. It has an aerial, upright, green, cylindric, branching stem. When temperatures fall below 60°F, tropical hibiscus, which may spread up to eight feet wide and have glossy green leaves, starts to deteriorate. Pruning helps to keep this plant compact because it is frequently planted in containers. Tropical and subtropical regions of the world have extensive decorative plant cultivation.

Hibiscus Moscheutos

Hardy hibiscus (pictured) tend to have pink monochromatic flowers, making them popular for ornamental uses.


Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus: Uses

Both hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus are primarily used as ornamental plants, as both of these species of hibiscus have stunning blooms. Hardy hibiscus produce white and pink flowers, while tropical hibiscus flowers tend to range from gold to yellow to pink to red to purple. They are used in outdoor gardens and are also used as stunning houseplants. Hardy hibiscus tend to have monochromatic flowers, while tropical hibiscus tend to have a mix of different colors.

Hardy hibiscus roots and leaves are rich in mucilage, which can be used to treat urinary infections, lung conditions, and diarrhea. Bladder infections have been treated using an infusion of dried stalks. Digestive inflammations can also be treated with tea made from cooked leaves.

Infusions of tropical hibiscus produced from its flowers, leaves, and roots are frequently consumed. In addition to being consumed in moderation, hibiscus is also utilized as a herbal remedy to treat cancer development, high cholesterol, and hypertension. Tropical hibiscus blossoms can also be used to color meals like cooked vegetables and preserved fruits purple.

Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus: Origin

Hardy hibiscus can be found in wetlands and along riverine systems in the eastern United States, with its range extending northward to southern Ontario from Texas to the Atlantic states.

Tropical hibiscus has been grown for a very long period in China, Japan, and the Pacific islands, but its precise origin is unknown. It grows naturally in subtropical and tropical climates between 30° north and 30° south latitude.

Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus: How to Grow

The sturdy hibiscus prefers moist, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. Although it thrives in common garden soil, it requires high soil moisture for maximum growth and shuns extremely wet or damp soil. When the growing tips reach eight inches in height and twelve inches in height, nip them back to encourage bushier plants. When actively growing, this plant species requires heavy watering. In the summer, water it thoroughly three times a week. During the springtime, new growth normally grows slowly before accelerating later.

The more sunlight a tropical hibiscus receives, the better. This plant will tolerate very light shade but loves the full sun. The plant will likely produce fewer, smaller flowers the more shade it receives. Unless space is a concern, tropical hibiscus require little pruning during the growing season. To keep the plant in good form and promote growth, prune it back by about half in the early spring. Tropical hibiscus prefer an evenly hydrated root ball and dislike drying out. It’s crucial to provide additional water after planting in the first year, as needed, until the plant is well-established.

A bee on a tropical hibiscus (hibiscus rosa-sinensis) flower

Both tropical hibiscus (pictured) and hardy hibiscus are excellent pollinator plants for bees.

©Rebeca V.S/Shutterstock.com

Hardy Hibiscus vs. Tropical Hibiscus: Special Features

Hardy hibiscus is a great plant for pollinators. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators are drawn to its blossoms. Additionally, it benefits the ptilothrix bombiformis, also known as the rose-mallow bee, making it a great plant to grow to assist the bee population.

Tropical hibiscus is also an excellent pollinator plant. The tropical hibiscus is one of the most popular indoor plants in the world and is as well-liked as an outdoor flowering shrub in tropical climates. The flower emblems of Malaysia and Haiti both feature tropical hibiscus.

Both the hardy and tropical hibiscus are beautiful plants that produce eye-catching flowers. Which hibiscus species you pick really comes down to your hardiness zone. If you live in a colder climate, opt for the hardy hibiscus. If you live in a warmer or tropical climate, the tropical hibiscus is your best bet.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ihor Hvozdetskyi/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What's the difference between hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus?

Tropical hibiscus keeps its leaves all year, also known as ‘evergreen.’ Hardy hibiscus plants lose their leaves in the winter, also known as ‘deciduous.’

Do hardy hibiscus and tropical hibiscus look similar?

Tropical hibiscus tend to have peach or salmon-colored flowers mixed with yellow and orange flowers. Hardy hibiscus tend to be monochromatic.

Are tropical hibiscus capable of surviving winter?

Yes. Tropical hibiscus can be kept in areas where there are frosts. The older the plant is, the more likely it is to survive harsh cold conditions.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. NCSU (North Carolina State University), Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/hibiscus-rosa-sinensis/
  2. NCSU (North Carolina State University), Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/hibiscus-moscheutos/
  3. Susan Klatz Beal, Available here: https://www.hunker.com/12003483/difference-between-a-hardy-hibiscus-and-tropical-hibiscus