The tropical hibiscus belongs to the Malvaceae or mallow family. Other relatives are the rose-of-sharon (shrubby althea), the hardy hibiscus grown in the North, okra, cotton, the Confederate rose, hollyhock and others. Some types have been used to make dyes, and others have been used as food.
Originating in Asia and the Pacific islands, hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia. It is closely associated with Hawaii; the state’s flower is a native species of hibiscus, H. brackenridgei.
Real interest in the hibiscus in Hawaii developed around the end of the 19th century. Some plants probably came from China and were crossed with native Hawaiian species. Interest spread to the U.S. mainland, and Florida became a center for this interest― the Reasoner family being early pioneers. The American Hibiscus Society was formed in 1950 with Norman Reasoner as its first president.
Organized interest in hibiscus is also strong in Australia. It is thought that the plant was introduced there in the early 1800s, but real interest was sparked later when 30 plants were imported from India for use in the landscaping of Brisbane by its city council. The northern parts of New Zealand also became involved in hibiscus culture.