A Hibiscus Story

A Hibiscus Story

Despite being almost thrown away, a strong-willed hibiscus refused to give up, as did its owner.


One fall, I saw our neighbors bring in their outdoor furniture. Hey, one of them said over the fence, we’re going to toss the tropical hibiscus plant that you admired on our patio. Do you want it?

Sure, I said. We’ll bring it indoors and see what happens.

And so, our love story began ❤.


The hibiscus dazzled my family by blooming profusely for many years, indoors during the cold months and outdoors on the patio in the summer.

Then, one winter, the plant started looking sick and stopped producing flowers. I took it out of the pot and found a dense, tangled knot of roots. We didn’t have a larger pot, so I gently tore away at the root ball until there was enough room in the pot for roots and dirt. This helped, and once again, the hibiscus started producing blooms and healthy green leaves.

The next fall, I waited just one day too long before bringing it indoors. The overnight frost did not make for a happy hibiscus, and the entire winter, it angrily shed its leaves.

I took it back outside the following summer, but that didn’t help. It kept dropping leaves. I gave it more water; it kept dropping leaves. I fertilized it; no difference. 

I was losing it (I mean the plant). Again, I took the plant out of the pot, tore away at the excess roots, then re-potted it. I waited for the hibiscus to rejuvenate.

It did not.

This plant shed. Every. Single. Leaf. Surely it was at end-of-life this time. It looked sad, and so was I.  Why not just get a new one? We had a good run. It was time. I threw the plant into the compost heap, where it sat for a week, leaning dejectedly to one side. On Monday, the compost truck would haul it away.


But that Monday, when I saw it sitting on the curb, I thought about our 20-year history together. About the pictures I had proudly posted on social media when it put on a particularly showy display of flowers. We had put holiday lights on it. It was a part of our family. It had relied on me to keep it alive, and I had failed.

I went out to the curb and brought it back to the garden.

The only thing I could think to do was to plant it in the ground, and hope for the best. Weeks went by and nothing happened. But I kept watering it. I talked to it almost every day. I rooted for it, but still no sign of life. At this point, I figured it could stay in the ground until late September, so I just let it be its unattractive stick self in a corner of the garden.

About six weeks later, I spotted a hopeful, tiny little green sprig.  A week later, a few more. Then some leaves. Then a lot of leaves, and finally a flower!

And recently, the plant produced what I think is its largest red blossom ever. It took some time, but somehow, we found in the earth what it needed to heal and thrive.

I didn't give up on the hibiscus. I didn't just buy a new one; that's not how you treat a friend of many years.

These images above are from the day the hibiscus re-bloomed in my garden.

This fall, I'm buying it a bigger pot.

Get more info on hibiscus, see which varieties we have growing at the Garden, or contact our Plant Information Service for answers to your specific gardening questions.

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It began the way so many love stories do—with a glance of longing. Read about writer Cheri  Van Deraa’s 20-year relationship with a feisty hibiscus and how they each brought out the best in one another. The writer and her plant capture the spirit of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s summer theme Love in Bloom, celebrating connections of all kinds.

Tell us your plant story

Have you ever thought a plant was done for, only to have it spring back to life? If so, we’d love to hear your story, which may be included in a future blog. Please send us a short narrative and any before/after photos 

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