The shoe flower plant is a type of hibiscus shrub that originated in China. It is called the “shoe flower plant” in India because the flowers produce a dye that was often used as shoeblack. In China, it is used as a hair dye. Hawaiians eat the flowers as a digestive aid, and it has found medicinal uses in other parts of the world. It is also used to color food, liquor and paper. The shoe flower is a tropical plant and does not overwinter outside in USDA hardiness zones 1 through 8 or 9.
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The most eye-catching part of the shoe flower plant is the flower itself. The shoe flower is funnel shaped, with five petals sticking out horizontally from the funnel, to give it a brim. The stamens stick far out of the center of the funnel. Some plants produce flowers with a second layer of petals underneath the first, giving them a very full look. Some flowers have solid colors, others have patterns made of several different colors. Shoe flowers produce blooms in red, pink, yellow, white and every other flower color except black and blue. Some flowers are 2 inches wide. Others are 1 foot across. An average cultivar in good planting conditions should show flowers 4 or 5 inches wide.
The leaves are about 3 inches long and 3 inches wide. They have a wide base, tapering to a point at the end. The leaves have a shiny dark green color. If they turn yellowish, the plant is experiencing some sort of stress. This could be from overwatering, overfertilizing, too much cold or too little light.
The shoe flower plant also produces fruit. This fruit has the shape of a capsule, and is divided into five cells. Each of these cells contains three seeds. The juice contains fats, sugars and chemicals that some people use for their supposed medicinal effects. However, claims of many of these effects have not been scientifically established.
Stem and Branches
The plant as a whole can grow to be 10 feet tall, although some specimens do not make it above 3 feet. These shrubs might get to be 10 feet across, though smaller varieties might not exceed 2 feet. In the tropical regions to which these plants are native, they can reach 15 feet in height.