These gorgeous flowers are the ancestors of many of our garden Hibiscus varieties. There are two main color variants: white with dark red eye (forma peckii in older botanists) and the more common solid pink. They are not terribly common here, but locally abundant, as they were in this swamp in Cranberry, where they were blooming in late August. The USDA PLANTS database reports this species only in Allegheny and Fayette Counties in our area, but this colony was very near the line between Allegheny and Butler counties, and we are not entirely sure on which side of the border.
These pictures were taken with a cell phone while the photographer was standing knee-deep in poison ivy beside a busy four-lane highway. They are not ideal photographs, but, considering the circumstances, they are adequate. Such are the sacrifices we make to document the flora of southwestern Pennsylvania for you.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
HIBÍSCUS L. Rose Mallow
Calyx involucellate at the base by a row of numerous bractlets, 5-cleft. Column of stamens long, bearing anthers for much of its length. Styles united, stigmas 5, capitate. Fruit a 5-celled loculicidal pod. Seeds several or many in each cell. — Herbs or shrubs, usually with large and showy flowers. (An old Greek and Latin name of unknown meaning.)
H. Moscheùtos L. (swamp R.) Tall perennial (1-2.6 m. high); the ■tern puberulent above; leaves ovate, pointed, toothed, the lower and sometimes the upper 3-Iobed, downy-whitened underneath, glabrous or slightly downy above: calyx and bracts densely stellate-puberulent; calyx in anthesis 2-3 cm. long, its lobes ovate or ovate-oblong; petals 6-12 cm. long, rose-color; capsule glabrous, subglobose, abruptly beaked. — River-banks and fresh or brackish marshes, near the coast, e. Mass., southw.; also lake-shores and swamps (especially near salt springs) westw. to Ont. and Mo. July-Sept.
Gray makes the crimson-eyed form a separate species, but it seems clear that in Cranberry, at least, it is the same species as the pink form: