Annual herb 0.5 - 2.5 m tall Stem: erect, stout, and either bristly-hairy or almost hairless. Leaves: alternate, long-stalked, large, much wider than 6 cm (often to 35 cm wide), somewhat rounded or heart-shaped in outline, but normally deeply palmately five-lobed, and always with some teeth on the edges. Inflorescence: of solitary, large, stout-stalked flowers in the upper leaf axils, with each flower immediately subtended by eight to twelve, linear, up to 2.5 cm long bracts, which usually fall off early. Flowers: typically yellow, up to 7.5 cm wide, radially symmetric, broadly bell- or funnel-shaped. Sepals: five, but fused almost to their tips into a thin, tubular sheath with five teeth at the apex. At flowering time, the sepal tube splits along one side, and then falls off before the fruit ripens. Petals: five, wide, 3 - 5 cm long, white to yellow, with purple or red coloring at the narrowed base. Stamens: numerous, but the filaments united into a tube, with the anthers protruding above the middle of the tube. Pistil: enclosed by the stamen tube, with one superior ovary, the style coming up through the stamen tube's center, then branching above with five, deep red, stigmatic surfaces located along the inner-facing sides. Fruit: a many-seeded, five-angled, 6 - 25 cm long (and more than two times longer than wide), cylindric or finger-shaped, beaked capsule covered with bristly, appressed hairs (at least when young). When wet, the seed exterior becomes sticky and gelatinous (mucilaginous).
Similar species: Abelmoschus esculentus is similar to species of Hibiscus, but they all have capsules which are about as long as wide.
Habitat and ecology: Introduced from Africa, this species is often cultivated as a vegetable. In our area it is known only from Berrien County where it was collected in a dump area.
Occurence in the Chicago region: non-native
Notes: This species is often included in the genus Hibiscus, but due to differences in the structure of its sepals, and the elongate fruit, it is easily separated into its own genus, Abelmoschus. The fruit of this plant, known as okra, is eaten as a vegetable and is often found in soups, stews, and gumbos.