04
March
2019

Hibiscus Mahogany Splendor

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Beautiful maple-like leaves of Hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor’

Every now and then, when rummaging through an attic, old cabinet, or boxes in the basement, we find a treasure. This is how we came across Hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor’, a cultivar from the PanAmerican Catalog. This cultivar is modern, but we’re not certain how long it has been kicking around the industry, nor do we know if it was bred or found.

What we do know is that we love the Japanese maple vibe. This surprisingly fun plant worked its way into several design scenarios we didn’t expect. It turns out that what’s old is new again, so let’s take a fresh look at Hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor’.

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From a distance, it resembles a Japanese maple tree

A Very Special Leaf

We like this plant for its striking maple-like leaf, produced in deep burgundy or red-chocolate with very slender fingers and serrated edges. That rich red glow in the chocolate comes from full blazing sun—the leaf color gets richer as the sun gets hotter.

Don’t expect flowers. ‘Mahogany Splendor’ is a short-day Hibiscus and our summer days are much too long. Folks in the deep South would see a traditional dish flower in cranberry red, but we grow it strictly for that red maple leaf look.

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Ruby leaves are deeply cut and serrated

Cascading Mound of Texture

From a distance, the plant reads like a Japanese maple but with a rounder shape and leaves that cascade down to the ground. It’s common to talk about foliage plants that surround your ankles or shins, but we rarely see leaves that mount a striking display above the waist.

Actually, the shape is more gumdrop than tree-like, a pyramidal cascade of textured red leaves about three to five feet high and two to three feet wide. Branches and stems are long for the size of the leaves so the color puffs out with the core of the plant hidden away underneath all that texture.

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‘Mahogany Spendor’ is waist-high on Elmer mid-season

The Center of Our Red Garden

‘Mahogany Splendor’ works well in a Zen or contemporary garden. We used it to anchor our Bed of Red—it was the tallest plant that grew above the Coleus, Begonia, Celosia, and other redheads we offer. This was part of our Pathway Garden, a full sun location so, as is the case with many foliage plants in full blazing sun, the leaf pigments intensified for the deepest, richest chocolate-red color. Full sun got the tallest height out of the plant, too. It handles trimming, so it shapes easily. We paired this one back to a level we liked, about five feet by the end of the season.

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In partial shade, more green and rust appears in the leaves

In the Autumn Barn Bed

We also planted ‘Mahogany Splendor’ against the barn in our Autumn Bed. This is a part-shade location, and the leaves were more multi-colored with younger leaves showing a green undertone longer. We noticed that the green was more pronounced as well. Red veins and red-brown stems created brown stripes.

Over time the leaves filled with chocolate. As the plant aged, the foliage presented a more dappled range of reds, browns, and greens in the garden. We found that it grew lower and wider, too.

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Deep ruby red extends down the stems and into the branches

Set in a Pond

Like many plants, the final size is controlled by water. More water results in a larger plant. In fact, ‘Mahogany Splendor’ loves water so you can also drop it directly into a riverside planting or a koi pond—pot and all—to create a dramatic shoreline display and shade for the fish.

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Coleus ‘Redhead’ and ‘Vino’ work with dark ruby tones of ‘Mahogany Splendor’

As a Vase Plant

Some innovative designers have started using small branches of ‘Mahogany Splendor’ in their vase and bouquet work. We see the bushy bunches of garnet bound together with white flowers for maximum contrast, or Coleus in lime green (‘Wasabi’) or orange (‘Trusty Rusty’) for a bright shock of wow factor.

When harvesting the branches for vase work, mornings work best—while the leaves are fully hydrated or even wet with dew. Strip the lower half of the branch and sear the stem end with boiling water to keep the sap from flowing outward. If you do this, you can expect a vase life of more than seven days.

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‘Mahogany Splendor’ became a staff favorite

A Fun Plant for Several Designs

In the end, we greatly enjoyed working with Hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor’. It offered a range of design options, worked in a wide range of design assignments, and gave us a look that we simply cannot get without denuding an expensive Japanese maple.

‘Mahogany Splendor’ is a tender perennial, so it will come back if you are used to overwintering tropical plants. Since it is a deciduous plant it doesn’t offer much winter excitement. Outside, we’ve heard of survival into zone 7 with protection—but we think that’s sketchy at best.

Hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor’ is available in the 6-inch pot.

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