And finally, she blooms, my red hibiscus. Struggling with heat and then endless struggles with woolly aphids, nursing my hibiscus plants back to health and making them bloom. I bought three hibiscus plants at the beginning of summer – red, pink and orangish yellow, from the nursery next door. Planted them in big enough pots and placed them in the balcony adjacent to my bedroom. Blooming hibiscus would cheer me every morning and remind me of Agartala, I thought.
Hibiscus or Joba, as we call them in Bangla, remind me of my childhood. Hibiscus plants of all colours were scattered across our courtyard – red, yellow, pink, white, double petalled, blooming effortlessly through the year. In the morning my mother would pluck a few joba phool (hibiscus flowers) and offer them to Gods. Red hibiscus was always placed at the feet of Goddess Kali. Any kind of worship or pujo in Bengal is incomplete without hibiscus flowers.
Hibiscus is the national symbol of Haiti and the national flower of nations like the Solomon Islands and Niue. A certain species of hibiscus is widely cultivated in China; hence hibiscus is also called China rose. So integral is this flower to Bengali life and culture that I feel joba should be the state flower or symbol of Bengal. Because this flower was so prevalent, growing effortlessly everywhere, I didn’t quite value them as a child. I also thought that they would be easy to grow.
When I chanced upon hibiscus plants in the nursery next door, I realized how beautiful they were. This once, apparently common flowers, revealed themselves to me. I had just returned from Agartala, still dealing with the loss of my father, and I found these flowers very soothing. I brought them home and placed them in my sunny balcony.
Summer has been harsh this year, but hibiscus are sturdy plants, they are tolerant. While watering to help them combat heat, I overwatered my plants. The yellow hibiscus perished despite my best efforts, the other two survived. They were even flowering but then came woolly aphids. These small waxy white sap sucking insects destroyed the buds and made my plants droop.
I immediately acted against them with neem oil and soapy water solution, the battle however was long. These disgusting aphids are resilient creatures, they would resurface again around the buds. The buds would turn yellow and drop before blooming. While I continued to battle aphids, I also nurtured my plants with water and fertilizer as required. I didn’t give up and my plants fought back. Aphids started receding and my hibiscus bloomed!