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Island Nature: the enchanting beauty of a hibiscus

December 29, 2014

Nothing says “tropical island” like a hibiscus flower. Even the name seems to conjure the warm breezes of Caribbean or South Pacific islands. Its other name – rose mallow – isn’t quite so enticing, yet the flower still looks just as enchanting. On a Caribbean getaway travelers often encounter this delicate, but brilliantly colored blossom.

(Tropical hibiscus, photo (c) Laura Albritton)

 

The hibiscus is known as a "flowering plant" and each flower has five or more petals. Certain kinds of hibiscus attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

 

When I (Laura) was a child, we had a long hedge of hibiscus in our yard in Tampa, Florida, with flowers that ranged from white to bright pink to red. Red appeared the most common, while at least in our lawn, white remained the most rare. (If I'm remembering correctly, our hedge didn't include yellow, orange, or purple hibiscus, some of the other types you can find in the tropics.) These flowers were always a particular favorite of mine. As a teenager I discovered that if you plucked one, and stuck it behind your ear…it would not last long. Its beauty is fleeting.

(The fleeting beauty of the white hibiscus, photo by Sudarshan V, Flickr)

 

In India the hibiscus flower plays a part in Hinduism, since this flamboyant blossom is associated with the goddess Kali (also known as Durga) who represents empowerment, time, and change. Worshippers offer the flower both to Kali and to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who presides over good fortune.

(The Hindu deity Kali, photo by Alice Popkorn, Flickr)

 

In the golden age of Hawai’i and Tahiti, the hibiscus signaled a girl’s marital state: worn behind the right ear, the flower meant a girl was available. Worn behind the left ear, a hibiscus indicated that a woman was in a relationship or was married.

(Hibiscus, Challiyil Eswaramangalath Pavithran Vipin, Flickr)

 

In the tropics people make tea out of the hibiscus, which contains a wholesome amount of Vitamin C. Who first decided it might be a good idea to boil thes island beauties? Beyond its health benefits and religious significance, the flower’s languid, delicate petals brighten any landscape with a burst of cheery color.

 

Have you plucked a hibiscus on your travels? Or simply enjoyed it on the bush? Let us know, Island Runaways friends. This plant is one aspect of Island Nature that we never, ever seem to grow tired of. Yet one more reason to savor the extraordinary nature found on the islands.

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