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Rum Runner hibiscus offers day-long show
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
One of the plants I enjoyed the most on my deck this growing season has been a tropical hibiscus named Rum Runner. It's a large, 8-inch bloomer that has been very popular in Florida, and an Internet search indicates many other gardeners want it, too.
An Internet search will show hundreds of hibiscus as pretty as this one, many even prettier, and I admit I want them all. My family already accuses me of having some kind of compulsive problem, so maybe I will fulfill their diagnosis and have a couple hundred hibiscus on the deck when they get home one day.
Why do I love Rum Runner? It has an incredible change of color during the day. A lot of flowers change colors, most of them rather subtly. The Sonrise lantana is an example of this. Blossoms change from yellow to orange to red to magenta, but when you look at the plants, you see all the colors at once.
Rum Runner is different. When it opens in the morning around 8:30, it has colors that defy logic for a hibiscus or any other flower I have ever known. It starts out with varying shades of magenta on the outside. As you move inward, you find lavenders, a starburst-like splash of iridescent blue and then a dark burgundy eye in the center.
Those colors are awesome, but remember that was at 8:30. You may want to grab a cup of coffee and enjoy it because by noon, the colors will be different.
Rum Runner's outer petals change to oranges and reds with a hint of yellow. The lavender becomes a subtle purple, but there is still a hint of blue that is now a little lighter. Maybe you can have your sandwich and a soft drink on the deck and enjoy the still-changing kaleidoscope of color.
Hibiscus other than Rum Runner, or Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, also change colors well. When I was a horticulturist in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas just a couple of miles from Mexico, a friend had a Hibiscus tileaceus, or Sea Hibiscus, the size of a small redbud. It would have hundreds of flowers at once that would open a creamy yellow with a maroon eye in the morning and be red by dinnertime.
Many of our beloved Confederate Rose or Hibiscus mutablis open white in the morning, are pink by noon and turn red in the afternoon.
I left you eating a sandwich with the noon version of Rum Runner. If you happen to linger, you'll notice that oranges take over predominantly for the next couple of hours, although there is still a lot of magenta.
By 3 p.m., the Rum Runner has switched to a bright yellow pastel with a blush pink where the lavender had been prominent in the morning. The dark burgundy in the center remains throughout the day. The flower or flowers last until dark and then close, having done their best to dazzle you for the day. Don't be sad; the show will start again tomorrow.