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Monday - September 12, 2011

From: New Braunfels, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: General Botany, Plant Identification, Shrubs
Title: How can I distinguish Hibiscus laevis from Pavonia braziliensis in New Braunfels, TX?
Answered by: Jimmy Mills


How can I distinguish Hibiscus laevis (Halberdleaf Hibiscus) from Pavonia braziliensis (Brazillian Rock Rose)? Earlier this year I was given the former by a friend and former NPSOT chapter President. Then I bought a Salvia at Medina Garden Nursery, and it had a "volunteer" in the pot that they identified as "South American" Rock Rose. Now both are blooming, and they appear almost indistinguishable. Thanks,


Both Hibiscus and Pavonia are genera in the plant family Malvaceae, so you would expect them to resemble one another; one source referred to them as cousins, but lets not go there. When Botanists describe plants and assign them to genera and species, a great deal of attention is paid to the structure of the flowers in addition to other morphological and chemical characteristics. There is one difference in the flowers of these genera that is easy to see, and will allow you to distinguish Hibiscus from Pavonia. Luckily, you have flowers of both plants.

Before we go into flower parts, look at this diagram to refresh your memory. We are interested in the pistil which is composed of the ovary, style(s) and stigma(s).

One character that separates the two genera is the number of stigmas at the tip of the pistil. Plants in the genus Hibiscus have the style divided into 5 stigmas, while plants in the genus Pavonia  have twice as many stigmas (10).

In the case at hand, the common name of Hibiscus laevis (Halberdleaf rosemallow), or Halberdleaf Hibiscus gives us another clue. The halberd was a type of pole axe used in the middles ages, whose shape somewhat resembles the base of the leaf of H. laevis (or vice versa).

The following links illustrate these features:

Alabamaplants.com  pictures of the stigmas and leaf shape in H. Laevis.

Greatstems.com  pictures of stigmas of Pavonia braziliensis

Greatstems.com  good illustration of stigmas in a Texas Pavonia, P. lasiopetala. Also note the leaf shape


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