Perennial herb 1 - 2 m tall Stem: single, erect, unbranched, and covered with dense matting of grayish hairs. Leaves: alternate, stalked, toothed, mostly hairless above, densely hairy below, widely lance-shaped or egg-shaped with a long-tapered pointed tip, and occasionally also with a weak pair of shallow lobes near the leaf middle. The hairs on the lower leaf surface are soft, branched, and star-shaped. Flowers: axillary, long-stalked, showy, pink or white, often with red or purple center, very large (10 - 20 cm diameter), funnel-shaped with five flaring petals, and five sepals, which are immediately subtended by more than ten, slender, linear, very long-pointed, hairless bractlets. The flower stalks are jointed at or above their middles, and often there is a fairly well-developed leaf along the stalk, in addition to and above the axil of the stem leaf from which the stalk arises. Sepals: five, but fused at base, then separating into five, large, lance- or egg-shaped lobes, which enlarge in fruit to enclose the capsule. The outer surface of the calyx is densely covered with fine, soft, branched, star-shaped hairs. Petals: five, pink or white with darker bases (often red or purple), large (6 - 10 cm long), widest at fairly flat and slightly wavy tips. Stamens: numerous, but filaments fused into a long tube, with separate anthers all along the tube sides, and five teeth at top of the tube. Pistil: enclosed by the stamen tube, with one five-chambered superior ovary, five fused styles coming up through center of stamen tube and extending beyond it before branching above into five, obvious, rounded stigmas. Fruit: stalked, five-chambered, many-seeded, mostly hairless, fairly rounded, often short-beaked capsules enclosed by the persistent and enlarged sepals. The capsule opens from the top lengthwise down the hairy chamber dividers (sutures), and each chamber contains several, round, hairless seeds.
Similar species: Hibiscus moscheutos ssp. moscheutos is very similar to the more southern subspecies H. moscheutos ssp. lasiocarpos, but that subspecies has both surfaces of the leaves obviously hairy, the bractlets have hairy-fringed edges, and the capsules are entirely hairy. In our area, H. moscheutos is most similar to H. laevis, but that species has no hairs on the lower leaf surface, calyx (sepals), or capsules, but the seeds are hairy. The other large-flowered species that may be considered similar is H. syriacus, but it is a woody branching shrub, and its leaves are more egg-shaped with coarse teeth, and the flowers are much more tightly clustered on short stalks.
Flowering: late July to late September
Habitat and ecology: Locally along streams, especially in marshy places near stream mouths.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: This taxon has also been known by the name H. palustris, while the more southern subspecies may be recognized as a separate species under the name H. lasiocarpos.