The rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) and the Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) both belong to the hibiscus or mallow family. These ornamental, perennial plants grow best in full sun and well-draining, fertile soil, but the similarities end there. Confederate roses are warm-climate plants, while the rose of Sharon is more adaptable. If you live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 or 9, you can grow both.
The first major distinction you'll notice between the Confederate rose and the rose of Sharon is where they grow. The Confederate rose, as the name implies, is a favorite in the Southern garden. Legend says that Southern ladies offered the blooms to passing Confederate troops. This tender perennial is found only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Rose of Sharon is a hardier plant, thriving in USDA zones 5 through 9.
The blooms of these two plants are decidedly different. There are some single forms of Confederate rose, but the classic plant produces rose-like multi-petaled flowers. The blooms first appear as white balls that resemble cotton bolls. As the blooms mature, they go from pink to red. Rose of Sharon has large, single blooms that come in a variety of colors, depending on the cultivar. Rose of Sharon's large, papery blooms resemble those of hollyhocks. A long stamen punctuates the middle of each flower.
Another difference between these two plants is their growth pattern. Confederate Rose typically grows 8 to 12 feet tall each season, but dies back to the ground during the winter in all but the warmest areas. In frost-free climates, it can grow 30 feet tall or more. Rose of Sharon is a deciduous shrub, but it doesn't die back during the winter. It usually grows 8 to 12 feet tall, and has a vase-like shape.
Because the Confederate rose dies back to the ground each year, it offers no winter interest. It is best used at the back of a mixed border, or combined with other plants. Rose of Sharon is a bit more versatile because it doesn't die back during the winter. It can be planted as a privacy hedge or used in mixed plantings. The two plants also have different bloom periods. The Confederate rose usually blooms from late summer through late fall, while the rose of Sharon blooms from early summer to fall.
- Texas A & M University: The Southern Garden: Hardy Hibiscus
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension: Hibiscus
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Hibiscus Syriacus "Minerva"
- Fine Gardening: Hibiscus Syriacus and cvs (Rose of Sharon)
- Southern Living: Confederate Rose Will Rise Again!
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Mecklenburg County: Flowering Shrubs: Confederate Rose
- Photo Credit Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images