Characteristics of False Roselle / Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) in the Wild

Hibiscus acetosella
False Roselle (Hibiscus acetosella) is a flowering plant of the genus Hibiscus. The word acetosella comes from Latin and comes from the old name sorrel (Oxalis) which comes from the sour taste experienced when eating the plant’s young leaves.

This plant is known by many names and varies from country to country, some of the popular names are False Roselle, Cranberry Hibiscus, Maroon Mallow, Red Leaved Hibiscus, Red Shield Hibiscus, and Red Panama. This plant is usually found in abandoned or open areas, swamps, and forest clearing.

False Roselle can grow to 90-170 cm in height in one season and forms a dense shrub. This plant is easy to grow in USDA zones 8-11 and is a decorative yard or potted plant.

This plant is often associated with a native Japanese plant, the Red Maple (Acer palmatum) where the foliage is the same, but the Red Maple will only be red in autumn.


Characteristics of False Roselle Leaf

Hibiscus acetosella Leaf
The dicot’s foliage and finger shape also varies from 3-5 lobed to un-lobed or non-splitting at the top of the plant’s leaves and is generally about the size of a small child’s hand, about 10×10 cm.

The leaves tend to be crisscrossed, simple, and deeply cut with sharp or serrated edges. The color of the leaves varies from deep maroon to an uneven appearance of red mixed with green. Stipula is linear, measuring about 1.5 cm long. Both the stem and petiole are 3-11 cm long.


Characteristics of False Roselle Flower

Hibiscus acetosella Flower
The flowers are solitary and perched on a 1 cm long flower stalk. The flower color varies and is most often a dark maroon which is the hallmark of the foliage with darker vein-like markings.

The flowers are rarely yellow and about 5 cm high. Each flower contains many stamens about 2 cm long. False Roselle is bisexual and is thought to be self-pollinating. Produces seeds that are reniform and dark brown with a size of 3×2.5 mm.

The flowers appear late in the season during the day. Flowers open for several hours during late fall to early winter at midday.


Characteristics of False Roselle Tree

Hibiscus acetosella Tree
This plant is easy to live in tropical areas and can reach a height of 1 meter or more in 3-4 months. However, it requires moist soil with good drainage and a variety of shade from full sun exposure. False Roselle will thrive in slightly acidic conditions with a soil pH between 6.1 and 6.5.

Seeds germinate easily within 3-4 days and grow rapidly. Light is not required for germination. However, this plant is more suitable to be cultivated using stem cuttings.


  • In Angola, the leaves are made into a tea and are used as a post-fever tonic and to treat anemia.
  • The leaves are also used to treat myalgia by squeezing the leaves into cold water to bathe the child.
  • This plant is thought to contain polyphenols, compounds that fight inflammation and are usually used to treat inflammatory diseases.


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