In Hawaii and throughout the South Pacific, wear a bloom behind your right ear as a sexy signal that you’re single; wear it behind your left ear to say you’ve already met your mate. (How to remember? Wedding rings are also worn on the left side.)
Victorian-era sweethearts sent hibiscus flowers — a symbol of “delicate beauty” — to their flames. If you’d like to do the same, consider giving an entire hibiscus houseplant. It’s like a tiki party in a pot!
Hibiscus tea may have been the drink of choice for pharaohs. For thousands of years, this tart tea (called karkade in Egypt) has been imbibed for the flower’s health benefits. In Egypt, it was used to cool the body, heal the heart and nerves, and as a delicious diuretic. Make a bright-pink batch for yourself!
In Hinduism, the red hibiscus represents the tongue of Kali, the goddess of time, doomsday, and death. Hibiscus blooms are often offered in prayer to this powerful goddess in honor of her fierce life force.
Enjoy the beauty of a hibiscus bloom while you can — most last just 24 hours. So in Hawaii, giving a hibiscus flower to a friend is a pretty way to say “seize the day!” (If you’re short on flower-power, gift Wild Hibiscus Cocofloss to an ambitious bud instead!)
Native to Hawaii, the yellow hibiscus, or pua mao hau hele in Hawaiian, became the state flower in 1988. (Vintage postcards may feature a red hibiscus blossom as the state bloom, since the petals’ official color wasn’t declared for decades.) The graceful flowers symbolize old royalty, respect, and power, which is likely why they’re sometimes mixed in leis given to visiting politicians. (Obama, who grew up on the islands, may have once owned orange hibiscus-printed swim shorts!)
The Chinese have long celebrated this botanic beauty: hibiscus appears on porcelain plates from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), in 12th-century paintings, and in centuries-old silk tapestries.
More than 200 species of hibiscus grow throughout the world in such a dazzling display that even a famous drag queen chose the flamboyant flower’s name as her own. George Edgerly Harris III (a.k.a. “Hibiscus”) founded the gender-bending Bay Area group “The Cockettes” in 1969. During the high times of Haight-Ashbury, Hibiscus introduced “camp” — a precursor to glam rock — into mainstream culture.
Japan may be famous for its cherry blossoms, but South Korea has hibiscus blooms galore. The country’s national flower, mugunghwa (Hibiscus syriacus or rose of Sharon), bursts with color in the late summer and fall — a single tree can feature up to 3,000 blossoms. The prolific mugunghwa (meaning “eternal blossom that never fades”) is such an integral part of South Korean culture that it’s mentioned in the country’s national anthem.
Craving carne asada? How about hibiscus! Add fat and heat, and hibiscus calyxes soften to become a mean substitute for meat. With its chewy texture and ruby hue, cooked hibiscus works especially well in Mexican dishes such as spicy vegan quesadillas. These pair muy bien with hibiscus margaritas.
Don’t call it a comeback! The rare hibiscus flower Hibiscadelphus woodii was declared extinct in 2016. Then in early 2019, scientists were able to explore remote parts of Kaua’i using a drone — and they rediscovered the exotic flower growing happily on a cliffside in Kalalau Valley. Long live Hibiscadelphus woodii!
Hibiscus blossoms are like chocolate for sloths! Need a mental vacay? Check out this too-cute video of baby sloths getting a bath and snacking on hibiscus. Nom, nom.