Cranberry Hibiscus or False Roselle, Hibiscus acetosella
False Roselle, Maroon mallow, Red-Shield hibiscus and Cranberry hibiscus are all different names for Hibiscus acetosella. A tropical African native, it has been collected to the point of disappearing in those lands. Not only does it have use as an attractive short-lived flowering perennial in the landscape, its young leaves and shoots have been added to salads for color, cooked with rice or vegetables because of their slightly acid flavor and are sometimes used for tea.
Cranberry hibiscus has striking red leaves that remind us of Japanese maple. The color and pleasant sour taste of the leaves make them a great addition to salads or stir fries. It can be planted in the spring and kept pruned for an attractive annual shrub. In the Fall, it has pink blossoms. The calyx of the Cranberry Hibiscus are smaller and less juicy than the calyx of its close relative, Florida Cranberry or true Roselle.
The blossoms are used to make a drink popular in Central and South America. We pick them in the evening after they have folded up.
Thirty blossoms are blended with lime juice and sugar, then diluted with water to make a beautiful and tasty drink. The petals seem to add a smooth texture and intense color, more than any special flavor.
Plant about 3 feet apart. Does best in soil with good organic matter and a mulch layer, though it will grow in Florida sand, as well. Cranberry hibiscus is usually grown as an annual shrub or temporary hedge. Prune heavily to desired shape. Cranberry hibiscus will be tall and lanky without at least occasional pruning. Blooms during the winter months in Florida. If grown outdoors,it will die back in frost or drought, but returns from the roots. It also self-seeds readily.
Cranberry hibiscus cannot tolerate a freeze, so if you grow in an area that freezes during the winter, grow it as an annual. Save some seeds and plant them indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost, moving them outdoors to a sunny location when the ground has warmed up in the Spring.