Rose Of Sharon 'lucy' is not sterile

West Babylon, NY(Zone 7a)

I just bought myself a rose of sharon 'lucy' after reading its a sterile triploid. My plant was near other double flowered varieties that are lilac colored. Anyway, my plant has 10 + seed pods all with mature seeds in them. Everything I read about this cultivar says little to no seeds, but my plant has quite a few. Is this a rarity?

I'm actually not upset about this, just shocked.

Im going to save the seeds and grow them, this is the first double petaled variety I have found with viable seeds so curious if the trait will be passed on and if I get some crazy color combo!

Thumbnail by keithp2012 Thumbnail by keithp2012
Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

Quote from keithp2012 :
I just bought myself a rose of sharon 'lucy' after reading its a sterile triploid. My plant was near other double flowered varieties that are lilac colored. Anyway, my plant has 10 + seed pods all with mature seeds in them. Everything I read about this cultivar says little to no seeds, but my plant has quite a few. Is this a rarity?

In the film, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, Marcus Lycus (Phil Silvers) a purveyor of courtesans, is discussing a problem with Pseudolus (Zero Mostel), a slave in the house next-door to his brothel.

Marcus Lycus: I had a dreadful experience with a young officer to whom I had sold a virgin.
Pseudolus: What happened?
Marcus Lycus: She turned out to be a dud.
Pseudolus: A dud virgin? How could that happen?
Marcus Lycus: You see, the fellow who sold me the dud virgin, also sold me a dud eunuch.

With increasing frequency I appear to be running into cases of dud eunuch Hibiscus, plants which should not be able to set seeds which are in fact doing so. It could be a case of mistaken identity or just finding the right pollen source and/or conditions to achieve fertilization. The double Hibiscus syriacus Lucy, is documented as being a sterile triploid by the Missouri Botanical Garden which holds an extensive Hibiscus collection and is an authoritative source on Hibiscus

Hibiscus syriacus 'Lucy'

They also document that the semi-double Hibiscus syriacus White Chiffon, which I am cloning, as: “This is a sterile cultivar that does not produce viable seed.

Hibiscus syriacus 'Notwoodtwo' White Chiffon

There is only one small problem with this description, in the plant patent for Notwoodtwo, Dr. Roderick Ian Woods documents that this Hibiscus produces seeds.

Hibiscus syriacus 'Notwoodtwo’

I am very interested in determining which Hibiscus syriacus can be used for breeding and will do some more research on Lucy. Are there any nearby Hibiscus syriacus which can be pollen sources?

In addition to the usual mix-ups, could growers be misrepresenting Lucy as a sterile triploid to promote sales? Let’s face it, some people just want to grow Hibiscus and not breed them.


This message was edited Oct 4, 2012 9:52 AM

West Babylon, NY(Zone 7a)

Next to this plant was many white and lavender chiffon plants, as well as double red plants looked like Lucy but had larger flowers, and the typical rose of Sharon in pink and white, only single flowered plants set seed. So it was near many other double flowered varieties, perhaps mixing 2 double plants counters sterilization?

This is why I'm going to grow the seeds. If you send me a self addressed envelope I'd be happy to send you some seeds too.

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

In any discussion of Hibiscus syriacus sterile triploids, an understanding of how these cultivars were crated would be useful. Dr. Donald R. Egolf worked for the U.S. National Arboretum from about 1960 until his death in 1990. The highlights of his work with Hibiscus syriacus are summarized in this USNA document.

Hibiscus syriacus 'Aphrodite', 'Helene', and 'Minerva'

In the late 1960’s Dr. Egolf began work with Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' which at the time was a highly regarded pure-white fertile Hibiscus syriacus diploid. Unfortunately this cultivar is no longer available in the commercial or hobbyist networks in the United States but is available in Europe.

Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' AGM

In the DG Plant Files this Hibiscus is identified as Hibiscus syriacus 'Rev. William R. Smith' but it is not available and there are no reports or pictures.

Hibiscus syriacus 'Rev. William R. Smith'

Dr. Egolf first crated colchicine-induced tetraploid seedlings of Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' and then crossed the diploid and tetraploid cultivar of Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' to produce the pure-white triploid now know are Hibiscus syriacus 'Diana' which was released in 1970.

Using Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' as a white canvas on which he could paint, Dr. Egolf performed a number of crosses with the last cross always involving a Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' tetraploid.

H. syriacus Crosses Performed By Dr. Donald R. Egolf
H. syriacus 'Suminokura-yae' x H. syriacus 'William R. Smith'
H. syriacus 'Blue Bird' x H. syriacus 'Hanagasa'
H. syriacus 'Sokobeni-yae' x H. syriacus 'William R. Smith'

What is not known from the USNA summary is the pod and pollen parents in the crosses and if both Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' diploids and tetraploid were used or just the tetraploids. The release dates were as follows:

H. syriacus Triploads Released By National Arboretum
Hibiscus syriacus 'Diana' (1970)
Hibiscus syriacus 'Helene' (1980), (NA 41786; PI 445779)
Hibiscus syriacus 'Minerva' (1986), (NA 54984; PI 499813)
Hibiscus syriacus 'Aphrodite' (1988), (NA 54983; PI 500001)

USDA has provided an index to Dr. Egolf’s papers of Hibiscus syriacus triploids which were published in trade journals that are not as yet online but should be available in agricultural research libraries.

Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’, a new cultivar.

Meet 'Helene', a new Hibiscus syriacus.

'Helene' Rose of Sharon (Althea).

'Minerva' Rose of Sharon (Althaea).

'Aphrodite' Rose of Sharon (Althea).

Rising stars: the National Arboretum introduces 'Diana' rose-of-sharon, 'Adirondack' crab apple, 'Pueblo' firethorn and 'Conoy' viburnum.

It would be a useful goal to identify a source for a verifiable clone of Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' diploid in the United States. I may have such a clone but will never be able to prove it. I suspect that Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’, drove Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' out of the commercial market place but verifiable clones must still be in the United States. The Missouri Botanical Garden and the National Arboretum don’t appear have any in their public collections.

A second goal would be to find a source for a Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' tetraploid. If the USDA still maintains a line of this tetraploid, which is likely, they are not about to share a clone with hobbyists. But there is another way to obtain a tetraploid. In reference to Diana, the following observation is made: “Sets relatively few fruits and seeds.” If even a few seeds can be obtained from H. syriacus Diana using its own pollen, there is a probability that some of the seedlings will be tetraploid which will yield a Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' tetraploid very similar to the one used by Dr. Egolf. This Hibiscus should be fertile, more vicious and the pollen, which contains twice the amount of DNA, should have a diameter 1.26 times that of normal Hibiscus syriacus pollen. Any high school biology microscope will be able to identify the difference in size. Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' diploids and tetraploids are recessive inbred lines so the reconstructed tetraploid should be very similar to the original. Once we have a Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' tetraploid like line established under hobbyists control, we can create own Hibiscus syriacus triploids.

For now I have some library research to conduct and send out a few DM’s.


This message was edited Oct 15, 2012 9:39 AM

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

Quote from keithp2012 :
Next to this plant was many white and lavender chiffon plants, as well as double red plants looked like Lucy but had larger flowers, and the typical rose of Sharon in pink and white, only single flowered plants set seed. So it was near many other double flowered varieties, perhaps mixing 2 double plants counters sterilization?

Is Lucy the only know triploid in your collection? Do you have any of the four classic triploids which were listed in my last post and if you do, is there any seed production?

If Lucy is correctly identified as sterile triploid, the most likely possibility is one of your other Hibiscus syriacus is functioning as a super pollinator, the trick is identifying which Hibiscus it is. Growing the seeds shouldń help. If you want results the first year, you will have to start the seed indoors this winter.

Several years ago I purchased a Hibiscus cultivar from a plant seller which I had always been happy with. I was buying several Hibiscus and there was no additional shipping charge for extra plants. I already had a specimen of the Hibiscus which the dealer was offering but for the price with free shipping I could not pass it up. When the plant arrived it appeared to be correct but as it grew it was just a bit too tall and didn’t appear to be correct. Reviewing the dealer’s inventory, I identified a likely substitution and the error was understandable, the plants were that similar. My point is that mix-ups occur and we need to be on the lookout for them. I had one dealer, where half the shipment was clever accidents; obviously I no longer use this dealer.

One test would be to obtain a second Lucy from second source and see if it behaves the same way.


This message was edited Oct 8, 2012 12:47 AM

West Babylon, NY(Zone 7a)

Aphrodite and chiffon were next to my plant, they however didnt develop any seed pods. There are common ROS varieties nearby, the ones that produce thousands of seedlings, but if Lucy is sterile even fertile pollen nearby shouldn't allow pollination on Lucy plant, right?

Also, I have a shrub with half pure white, half pink flowers, shrub is over 30 years old and fertile could this be what your looking for? It's October and still blooming.

This message was edited Oct 8, 2012 8:43 PM

This message was edited Oct 8, 2012 8:54 PM

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

Quote from keithp2012 :
Aphrodite and chiffon were next to my plant, they however didnt develop any seed pods. There are common ROS varieties nearby, the ones that produce thousands of seedlings, but if Lucy is sterile even fertile pollen nearby shouldn't allow pollination on Lucy plant, right?

Aphrodite is one of Dr. Egolf’s triploid creations, which is discussed above, and behaving exactly as it should even though it is surrounded by a rich cocktail of viable Hibiscus syriacus pollen. There are a number of Hibiscus syriacus Chiffons some of which are fertile and others which may be sterile, there is some confusion on this subject as I noted previously.

In addition to triploid sterility, which we know works well; there are other forms of sterility in plants, including pod sterility, pollen sterility and self sterility. Ignoring the possibility of mistaken identity, it is becoming clear that Lucy is not behaving like a triploid. If the claims that Lucy is sterile are accurate, then we need to ask the question: exactly what type of sterility are the growers talking about? Lucy can’t be a triploid.

A more basic question is: how many Hibiscus syriacus triploids are there under cultivation? I just ran a patent search in Google for “Hibiscus syriacus triploid” and do you know how many plant patents I found for Hibiscus syriacus triploids? ONE!

Hibiscus plant named ‘Jodi’ (PP18998)

Jodi is a variegated stem mutation of Hibiscus syriacus Diana, which was created by Dr. Egolf. Since Dr. Egolf created his four sterile Hibiscus syriacus triploids, there have been no plant patents filed for Hibiscus syriacus triploids which were not the result of Dr. Egolf’s work. Dr. Egolf was unable to file for a plant patent because as an employee of the USDA, his work was in the public domain and therefore ineligible for patent protection under US law.

All of the reports of new sterile Hibiscus syriacus are pure BS and we can’t even fertilize our Hibiscus with that type of BS. A really disturbing thought just occurred to me: does Dr. Egolf’s original Hibiscus syriacus “William R. Smith’ tetraploid still exist?

This is one other plant patent which references a sterile Hibiscus syriacus.

Hibiscus plant named ‘DVPazurri’ (PP20563)

In this case they are using a binary breeding line where one of the lines is pod sterile. This little trick was first patented back in 1931 to extend the shelf life of cut Carnations. Every cut Carnation you see in the store today has a pollen sterility terminator gene which works for cut flowers. From my own work with hardy Hibiscus, I wouldn’t bet on this technique.


In answer to the original question raised by this thread, any claims to sterility in modern Hibiscus syriacus, not created by Dr. Egolf, should be viewed with skepticism.


West Babylon, NY(Zone 7a)

Thank You for that explanation, it seems most so called sterile cultivars still have some bugs to fix, good to know.

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

I have located an American nursery by the name of Wavecrest Nursery in Michigan who is selling clones of Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith'. I spoke to a very knowledgeable manager by the name of Jason who volunteered that the nursery has had the parent plant for Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' in their care for over 40 years and that it sets seeds. Note that I didn’t tell Jason that 40 years was the critical time-line for the Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' to be authentic. The Hibiscus clones they currently have are too large to ship but in the spring of 2013 they will have smaller clones which they can ship and which are reasonably priced. The nurseries focus is on local customers but they do a limited mail-order business for their smaller plants. There are only four reviews in the GWD but they are all positive. Here is the contact information and reviews.

Wavecrest Nursery
2509 Lakeshore Dr.
Fennville, MI 49408

Here is the information on Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith', where Wavecrest Nursery dropped the middle initial.

So why am I so keen to have an authentic Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith'? I am working on some interspecies hybrids which will most likely fail. On the off chance that I am successful, I want to be using verifiable stock for the crosses and Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith' has a proved track record in genetic research. I would also like to try and delicate Dr. Egolf’s original research if the opportunity presents itself.


This message was edited Oct 15, 2012 1:48 AM

West Babylon, NY(Zone 7a)

Good Luck let me know how it goes! If you also develop a true red rose of Sharon i'd love to buy a plant!

Villas, NJ

Hibiscus 'William R Smith looks precisely like a diploid cultivar in my friend's garden. I think it is the source of the cuttings I sent to Mike for his research.
I also observe seedpods on plants known to be sterile, such as the rare pod which forms on Magnolia 'Jane" which is one of the "Eight Little Girls" developed at the National Arboretum in the 1950's.
I wish you well, Mike, in your quest for unique hibiscus hybrids. Is there anything information in anyone's research about the belief that Hibiscus 'Diana' has genes of the tropical Hibiscus rosa-sinensis in its genetic bloodline? Found that interesting tidbit while Googling Hardy/Tropical Hibiscus syriacus cultivars.

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

I believe this is one of the sources:

Hibiscus... Without a Net!

Other then the hybrid Hibiscus paramutabilis x H. syriacus, which is commercially available, I remain skeptical of many of these claims. I do believe that high polyploid cultivars are possible, but may of the claims should be view with skepticism.

What may be occurring is a special form of Parthenogenesis known as Pseudogamy.

The following 1881 description by Focke sounds like some of the hybris which are being reported.

“In experiments to raise hybrids, you sometimes get plants which resemble the mother plant, but partly in their sexual potency appear noticeably weakened. They have for this reason often been taken for hybrids. I suspect that in such cases the foreign pollen no real fertilization completed, but only gave the stimulus to produce the outer parts of fruit. The seeds, which are found in the fruit, are, in my opinion, not spawned by hybridization and generally not through sexual procreation, rather they are incurred parthenogenetically."

This may also explain some of the results reported by the Fleming Brothers. There are some papers which I will link to.


Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

Given the role which Hibiscus syriacus ‘William R. Smith’ played in the creation of some of our modern Rose of Sharon cultivar, I wanted to learn about the history of this Hibiscus and found surprising little information about this plant and too much information associate with the word “Smith”. By dividing the Twentieth Century into time slices and working me way backwards, I finally found the following reference from 1917.

Garden & Home Builder, Volume 25 By Leonard Barron
The Garden Magazine, March, 1917 (Page 94)

"Hibiscus syriacus var. William R. Smith. A new white Rose of Sharon, flowers fully four inches in diameter, opening out flat."

Hibiscus syriacus ‘William R. Smith’ is almost 100 years old which qualifies it as an heirloom Hibiscus. We still don’t know who originate this Hibiscus syriacus or exactly who William R. Smith was but one likely candidate is William Robertson Smith (1828 -1912) who became Superintendent of the United States Botanic Gardens in the District of Columbia in 1863.

The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture
Volume 3, 1917 (Page 1597)
By Liberty Hyde Bailey

William Robertson Smith

There was also a Scottish clergyman by the name of William Robertson Smith (1846 – 1894), which is of interest because this Hibiscus is sometimes identified as the Rev. William R. Smith.

Given the date of death for the American horticulturist and the introduction of this Hibiscus syriacus, I suspect it was named for the horticulturist and not the clergyman; also, there is no title affixed to the name in the The Garden Magazine report. More research is required but I now know within a few years of where to search.

When using Google it is quite common that you have to ask the same question several different ways to find all the answers. When I did this I found two additional 1917 reports on the new Hibiscus syriacus ‘William R. Smith’. All of the reports appeared in American magazines and there was no indication as to the source of the new Hibiscus.

Gardeners' Chronicle of America, Volume 21
Jan 1, 1917 (Page 53)

"Althaeas (Rose of Sharon).—Personally, I must say that I care only for two varieties—the single white, Tatus albus, a slow grower, but exceptionably fine, and Beatrice, single pink; both do not need much pruning. There is a new variety out, William R. Smith, a giant, flowering with 4-inch white single flowers."

The Touchstone, Volume 1, May 1917 – September 1917
By Mary Fanton Roberts (Page 350)

"Althaea, the Rose of Sharon, a near relative, is almost as useful in a garden as the hollyhock. Its chief service is as a hedge plant for it is a strong, hardy shrub, and its blooming time is from August to October, when there are but few other shrubs putting forth color. It is symmetrical of habit and decorative of coloring. The fivepetaled blossom is very much like a single hollyhock, or, as its name suggests, a wild rose.

There are both single and double varieties in many shades of pink, red, white and a bluish white with crimson centers. Foliis variegatis is easily distinguished by its variegated green and white leaves. A new Giant-flowered Althaea, William R. Smith, produces wonderful white flowers four inches or more in diameter. These shrubs are frequently used as division hedges between suburban yards, serving a purpose similar to that of the California privet. The huge blossoms, however, give it greater beauty.

Another relative of the hollyhock, which is rapidly increasing in usefulness, known as the Mallow Marvel, has been developed from our lovely native marsh mallows. The plant is shapely, bushy, puts forth flowers fully nine inches across and thrives in ordinary garden soil. This is one of the most useful of modern productions and strange to say, though descended from a marsh loving flower, it does its best in garden soil."

The last reference has some interesting insights about the development of our modern Hibiscus. Read the entire report in Google Books.

A photograph of William R. Smith can be found on page number 29 of the following US Government Printing Office document.

The United States Botanic Garden


This message was edited Nov 4, 2012 6:22 PM

Thumbnail by Michael_Ronayne
West Babylon, NY(Zone 7a)

Very interesting!

Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

While researching the history of Hibiscus syriacus ‘William R. Smith’ I was able to definitively answer the question originally posed on this forum:

Hibiscus syriacus ‘Lucy' is a diploid and can’t be triploid sterile. That is not to say that there may be other sterility factors at work but triploid sterility is not one of them. Below is a link to a 2000 research paper, with free access, which evaluated 43 Hibiscus syriacus, including Lucy, for their genetic properties.

Genetic relationships among Hibiscus syriacus, Hibiscus sinosyriacus and Hibiscus paramutabilis revealed by AFLP, morphology and ploidy analysis
Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 47: 335–343, 2000.
By J.M. Van Huylenbroeck, J. De Riek & M. De Loose

The following paragraph was extracted from the research paper. I call your attention to the previously unidentified triploids, ‘Melrose’ and ‘Pink Giant’ which are commercially available in the United States.

”From the different H. syriacus cultivars tested in this study 36 accessions were diploid (Table 2). The somatic chromosome number of H. syriacus is 2n=80 (Skovsted, 1941). Five cultivars (‘Diana’, ‘Helene’, ‘Melrose’, ‘Pink Giant’ and ‘Shimsan’) were triploid and two (‘Purple CV2’ and ‘Red Heart CV’) were tetraploid (Table 2). The triploids ‘Diana’ and ‘Helene’ were developed at the US National Arboretum,Washington, DC. Both originated from a cross between a diploid seedling (unknown origin) and a tetraploid plant that resulted from colchicine treated seedlings of ‘William R. Smith’ (Egolf, 1970, 1981). ‘Purple CV2’ and ‘Red Heart CV’ were tetraploids that we received from the Sung Kyun Kwan University, Korea (Shim et al., 1993), while ‘Shimsan’ is a triploid developed at the same institute. For ‘Melrose’ and ‘Pink Giant’ it has been unknown that they are triploid. Compared to most of the diploid cultivars, triploids have bigger flowers (Table 1) and they produce few seeds. Because of this reduced seed production flowering is never inhibited during the season. Polyploid H. syriacus seems to be more tolerant to high levels of air pollution (Egolf, 1981). The triploid cultivars were also positively evaluated in different judging reports of the H. syriacus assortment (Van de Laar, 1997; Van Huylenbroeck et al., 1998). Apart from the cultivars tested here, ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Minerva’, both developed at the US National Arboretum, Washington DC, are also triploids (Van de Laar, 1997). H.paramutabilis (2n=ca. 82) (Niimoto, 1966) and the H. sinosyriacus cultivars were all diploid.”

I am going to take the results published in Table 2 of this paper and use it to update the information on Hibiscus syriacus in the DG PlantFiles database


Nutley, NJ(Zone 6b)

While searching for any reference to Hibiscus syriacus 'William R. Smith', I discovered that this Hibiscus was sometime identified as Althea 'William R. Smith'. In the beginning of December 1915, a report was presented which stated that Althea 'William R. Smith' was “named in honor of the late William R. Smith, who, for over half a century, was the head of the Botanical Gardens at Washington, D. C.”

Proceedings of the New Jersey State Horticultural Society
At Its Forty-First Annual Session Held at Freehold, N.J.

November 30th, December 1st and 2nd, 1915.
Published 1916 (Page 196)


Giant Flowered Althea, William R. Smith — One of the recent introductions, which is now offered for the first time. It has been named in honor of the late William R. Smith, who, for over half a century, was the head of the Botanical Gardens at Washington, D. C. The habit of the plant is ideal, naturally forming attractive, symmetrical, bushy specimens, while the glistening pure white flowers are of giant size, compared with all other sorts, being fully 4 inches in diameter under ordinary cultivation, and open out flat or salver-shape, quite different from the older types, which only partially expand; these large showy flowers are produced in great profusion from early in July until late in September, and are very conspicuous at a period when comparatively few shrubs are in bloom.

J. Otto Thilow

Any reference to a Rev. William R. Smith is clearly in error and should be corrected. What I have not as yet found is any advertising associated with the introduction of the new Hibiscus and that is what I am now looking for in the time period between 1914 and 1915.


Center, TX

This is to anyone who may have double rose of sharon of any color. I can't seem to find any around here. I would like cuttings if possible. Let me know by D-mail and I will send postage. Thanks,

West Babylon, NY(Zone 7a)

All my seeds from this plant have sprouted, so its NOT sterile.

Fabens, TX(Zone 8a)

Keith, that is wonderful let me know how they do.

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