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Tropical bloom

RUPA GOPAL

CHINESE hibiscus, Chinese Rose, Rose mallow — the hibiscus goes by these exotic names in the many areas it graces. A genus of herbs, shrubs and small trees belonging to the mallow family called Malvaceae, the hibiscus is native to the warm tropics, requiring ample sun and water. It varies from paper thin to thick curly double-petalled varieties that enchant the beholder in colours of white, red, pink, yellow, mauve and orange. Gardeners have a magnetic attraction for the trumpet-shaped blooms.

In California and Hawaii, over a 1,000 varieties and hybrids, popularly known as Hawaiian hibiscus, are grown. These are noted for their vibrant hues, size and shapes. Many of these are now grown in India.

The hibiscus requires watering once in three weeks. Ants and mites can spell rapid death, but they can be controlled to an extent by spraying. It is best to discard the pest affected plant, if in a pot. If in the garden, the plant develops into a hardy little tree, able to withstand pests. Cuttings and layering yield new plants.

The red jabakusum has traditionally been blended with coconut oil, with the steeped oil making for a healthy and gentle hair colourant. The single red flower is also used in hibiscus syrups, popularised by the French. It is served as a cool drink and made into tart by adding a few drops of fresh lemon juice.

Haircare products apart, the flower is used in edible sauces, and as flower salads, along with colourful nasturtiums. A single huge Hawaiian hibiscus makes for a splendid floral statement, in a glass, stone or brass bowl, as it remains fresh right through the day.

Its use in worship in India is of course, legendary.

In short, the hibiscus is a ideal symbol of warmth and life and health and vigour.

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