Belonging to the Malvaceae family, the hibiscus is characterized by a trumpet- shaped receptacle, five petals and a long pollen tube. The flower measures from 5 to 14 cm broad. How the hibiscus, dubbed the Queen of Tropical Flowers, was crowned Malaysia’s national flower is a story that is seldom told, so read on…
Why the Hibiscus?
After receiving independence in 1957, the nation needed a national flower to symbolize her identity. In 1958, the Ministry of Agriculture sought proposals for a national flower from all state governments. Seven flowers were proposed. They were the rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, lotus, hibiscus, frangipani and bunga tanjung.
The people in the east coast states of the country preferred the rose, while those in the west coast were partial towards the jasmine. In 1960, after careful consideration, the ministry selected the hibiscus rosa sinensis.
One reason it upstaged the other flowers was its eye-catching, bigger-sized red petals. Another reason given was that it blooms throughout the year and the plant requires little maintenance. Hibiscus is also commonly found in the rural areas where the plant functions as hedge fencing for houses.
Since then, the hibiscus has inspired the logos for several events, such as the Kuala Lumpur 98 XVI Commonwealth Games and Visit Malaysia Year 2007. It is also the logo for Tourism Malaysia.
More than just pretty flower
Besides being an ornamental plant, the hibiscus is also utilized for medicinal purposes. Hibiscus tea is a popular health beverage in Jamaica and Mexico for reducing high blood pressure. Ayurveda physicians in India use the hibiscus to treat hair loss, while in the Philippines, hibiscus roots are used as an aperitif and tonic. Also, the Xhosa of South Africa dress septic wounds with hibiscus leaves. Hibiscus juice, commonly called roselle, is available in many supermarkets nationwide.
In Kuala Lumpur, to make up for the lack of hibiscus in public parks, the City Hall has set up the Hibiscus Garden in Perdana Botany Park as a showcase for public enjoyment. The 0.9-hectare garden takes you through a kaleidoscope of colours with its thousands of species of flowers.
Expect to see red, beige, pink, white, yellow, orange and purple blooms as you stroll along footpaths of ruddy brickwork that wind around the slope of a hillock. At the summit of the hillock, you can take a breather under a gazebo with spurting fountains, and nearby is a small café which doubles as an art gallery.
American botanist Luther Burbank once wrote:
Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul
The hibiscus is all that and much, much more.