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    Hyped for hibiscus

    For Largo resident Bob Carran and his friends, hibiscus blooms are a beautiful diversion. On Sunday, the plant will be the focus of a county extension show and sale.

    By THERESA BLACKWELL
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 7, 2002


    LARGO -- It's been five years since Bob Carran of Largo caught a bug at softball practice. He warns that you'll catch it too, if you're not careful.

    " "Hibiscusitis' they call it on the Internet," he said.

    He's referring to a love of the hibiscus.

    That day at the softball field, the dugout bench was covered with flowers of many colors and shapes. "What are those?" Carran asked teammate Curt Sinclair, who cut them in his Seminole garden. The hibiscus blooms were beyond anything Carran had seen in his nearly 30 years of living in Largo.

    He went to a show, bought his first hybrid variety and was hooked. "So now I play softball three days a week and I play in the yard seven days a week," he said.

    Sinclair's hobby grew, too. He's now a commercial hibiscus grower in Myakka City and national president of the American Hibiscus Society.

    At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sinclair will speak on "Getting the Most From Your Hibiscus" at a show and sale at the Pinellas County Extension in Largo. Sales start at 9:30 a.m., and the judged show will open at 1 p.m. Blooms will compete for best of show in six classes, with one class reserved for amateurs. Entries will be accepted between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m.

    The local chapter of the society organized the event and hopes to spread the bug to new enthusiasts. "Be prepared to have fun and be prepared to be shocked and amazed at what you see," said Tom Miller of Clearwater, local society chapter vice president and chairman of the event.

    Miller said the plants for sale cost $12 and generally are hybrids of the more common stock, with 30 to 50 varieties -- everything from white to red, to brown and near blue.

    "They are not the hibiscus you would find at Home Depot," he said. If you turn onto Carran's street thinking his house will be the one with the hibiscus, you will have to look back at your directions. The bug has spread to neighboring yards.

    "Everybody's gone hibiscus crazy around here," Carran said.

    Raising new varieties is a large part of the fun for Carran.

    "I like to do the hybridizing part of it because you come out every morning and you don't know whether you're going to get the orange with the lavender center or the pink with the white veins," he said.

    Plants grown from seeds may have flowers nothing like their parents. Carran once crossed two plants with 5-inch blooms and got a plant with 2-inch blooms. "I call it 5 plus 5 equals 2," he said.

    Carran pollinates one flower with the pollen of another type of flower, tagging the plant with the names of the parents. With some luck a seed pod will grow, and he plants the seeds in a seedling tray. As they grow, he scoops them out with a fine silver butter knife he inherited from his mother.

    "It's perfect. It slides right into the seedling tray to scoop out the seedlings," he said. In the garden, the blooms range from huge flowers to tiny carnation types. Some have double petals and others have single petals that may or may not overlap on the edges. Kaleidoscopic colors of cream to yellow, pink, orange, red, lavender and nearly blue to brown range over the scene and merge on flowers.

    Carran pollinates flowers with an artist's brush as he moves through the garden.

    "He's the Mr. Bee. He pollinates every morning," said his wife, Maribeth.

    One of the plants drew Carran's attention. "See this one, honey. It just bloomed for the first time," he said.

    Carran plans to enter the show, but he can't say which hibiscus he will enter. With the show on a Sunday, he said, it's a joke in the hibiscus society that the flowers bloom, but "never on Sunday."

    "You just have to wait and see what blooms," he said.

    If you go

    The hibiscus show and sale is Sunday at the Pinellas County Extension, 12175 125th St. N, Largo. Sale hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entries for the show will be acepted from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Show hours: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. all the local hibiscus society at 895-8165, or visit the Web site of the Sunset chapter (sunsetchapter.org)

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