We like what we see

No one really calls this sort of flower rose mallow, though that is one of its common names. I’ve always heard it called hibiscus. Hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants that includes everything from herbaceous annuals to woody perennials. This is a huge genus that can be found nearly everywhere in the tropics and subtropics.

Its ubiquity has made it well known, and even patriotically and spiritually relevant. Hibiscus flowers are the national flower of Haiti, South Korea, and Malaysia. It is used in tourism advertisements and represents national unity in many countries near the equator. The Hindu goddess Kali, goddess of time, change, and power, is frequently depicted in works of art as wearing red hibiscus flowers. Red hibiscus are also often presented as offerings to Kali and the god Ganesha.

Hibiscus are hardy tropical plants. They do very well within their native ranges and have no problems growing in cramped conditions, which is probably part of the reason they are so widespread. In developed areas, humans have preserved their widespread nature by planting them in window boxes, community gardens, parks, etc. Their beautiful blooms and their resilience make them a perfect garden flower.

At what point does a plant become relevant to multiple parts of human society? Hibiscus are not cash crops, though they are sometimes dried and eaten. They don’t have large enough root systems to prevent erosion like trees. They don’t shade your home and lower your air conditioning bills. The key to their success with humans is their beauty and their range size. There must be some sort of threshold at which a plant is both aesthetically pleasing enough and widespread enough so that humans take a distinct interest in them. We just decide that some plants are important simply because we like them.


Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 19 May 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hibiscus?oldformat=true>.

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