Late Bloomers

By Ferida Wolff

I was in my side yard with gardening tools at the ready. Spring had just arrived and the flowerbed needed some attention. Although much of the garden was already beginning to bud – the Redbud tree in the back, the crocuses in front, and a host of daffodils on the side – the hibiscus looked quite dead. The white, hollow stalks bore no resemblance to the beautiful plant that had enticed me to buy it at the nursery last year. They assured me I would have flowers every year. Had I been taken advantage of?

I was about to dig up the whole plant when my brother-in-law came by and stopped me in my tracks.

“Don’t do it!” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because the hibiscus blooms later in the season. You can trim back the stalks but don’t uproot it.”

“Oh,” I said, shovel suspended inches from the earth. “A late bloomer, huh?”

The phrase brought me back to my childhood. My parents used to call me a late bloomer. I was shy and didn’t let many people get close. I was quiet in school, rarely raising my hand even when I knew the answer, afraid that I might be wrong. I remained un-bloomed until high school when I suddenly discovered myself and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. I had grown in skill and confidence and was ready to move out into the world.

I looked down at the hibiscus. From what I was observing, it didn’t seem likely that there would be any growth, but it wouldn’t hurt to wait and see what happened. If my parents could wait for me to bloom, surely I could do the same for the plant. I put away the shovel, at least for a while, and focused on cleaning up the yard.

As more of the garden flowered I kept peeking at the hibiscus, looking for signs of life. There wasn’t much. I eventually stopped checking on it and turned my efforts toward appreciating the other flowering plants.

Then one day my neighbor, whose back patio borders my yard, said, “What are those huge flowers growing in your garden?”

Huge flowers? What flowers?

I hustled around the house, and there they were; plate-sized hibiscus flowers in full, incredible bloom! My brother-in-law was right; this was a late bloomer. It was worth the wait. I was dazzled by the magnificent blossoms; the flowers were nine or ten inches each, in an enticing red! And there were buds galore. What a display for a plant whose name means “delicate beauty.”

I found out many things about the plant during its long flowering period. I learned that hibiscus flowers can be eaten. I have tasted nasturtiums, taken from my flowerpot one year, (they had a peppery taste) but I didn’t know that hibiscus was edible, too, though I should have known. I am a tea drinker, and it is listed in the ingredients in lots of herbal teas. Hibiscus can be added to salads, is available as hibiscus honey and syrup.

The plant also has a long history of medical use. Claims have been made for it as an antioxidant, as an aid in keeping the digestive tract functioning regularly and it’s said to be a help in weight loss. There’s actually quite a long list of healthful possibilities.

I discovered so many aspects to this plant that I was grateful I didn’t uproot it and cut short its promise. But I guess that goes for all of nature, people included. We can usually find something unexpected, un-thought of, surprising, enlightening, fascinating or helpful about everything if we choose to see it. My experience with the hibiscus helped me not to jump to conclusions, to remember that we all take our time to share the best of ourselves.

Now I will wait patiently for the hibiscus to bloom each spring. I know it will develop when it is ready, as I did. But if the hibiscus is any example, then we late bloomers are worth the wait.

About this writer

  • Ferida Wolff Ferida Wolff is author of 17 books for children and three essay books for adults. A frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, she also writes for newspapers and magazines, online at and is a columnist for Her website is, and her newest book is Missed Perceptions: Challenge Your Thoughts Change Your Thinking (Pranava Books 2009).

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2 Responses to “Late Bloomers”

  1. How fortunate that you did not dig up the hibiscus. They are beautiful flowers. What a wonderful surprise for you.

  2. Rose Ann Sinay says:

    Your story made me check my garden for any early surprises. Great essay.

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