Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image Rose of Sharon is just one of many in the Mallow family tree of plants.

August 8, 2013
Mallow family tree has plants of good, bad and ugly

They say there is a black sheep in every family and skeletons in every family closet. On the flip side, your genealogy may also include some who have achieved true greatness and others who are just generally good folks. This is true of human families and true of plant families as well.

The Mallow family includes a wide range of members that fit the criteria of the good, the bad and the ugly.

There are more than 200 genra and 2,300 species of plants in the mallow family. The most familiar is the mallow weed — known locally as cheese-its or cheese weeds. Whether or not you know the name you are likely familiar with these low-growing plants with a round fluted-edged leaf and a small cut-shaped flower that resembles a hollyhock. The seeds look something like a cheese wheel and the taste is considered in some circles to be a bit cheesy.

The weed is a survivor. Spray it and it curls gratifyingly and then rights itself and continues to grow. It responds this way to both 2-4, D and glyphosate (round-up) type products.

The only real way to get rid of this rather persistent weed is to pull or dig it removing its large taproot from the ground. In other areas of the country, many other much more aggressive and damaging weeds are relatives.

Of the mallow families many family members, many grow in tropical and semi-tropical environments around the world. It includes deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs and many annuals and perennials.

Besides that, there are the mallows we eat. Okra may not be one of the key foods in our local gardens and diet, but it does show up in various prepared dishes. The cacao bean, the source of chocolate, is one unforgettable member of the family. Cotton, jute and others are still more members of the Mallow family.

Hibiscus are among the more glamorous cousins. More than 300 species of hardy and tropical hibiscus family grace landscapes across the country. The tropical hibiscus is lovely indeed, but not well suited here. However, the hardy hibiscus has large, lovely blossoms and a survival instinct against cold winter weather.

Althea (Rose of Sharon), hollyhocks so familiar to old-fashioned gardens, prairie mallows and lavatera are also in the family.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), is an attractive blooming shrub that grows well in zones 5-8. It adds nice summer color when most woody shrubs are not in bloom. It is also very heat tolerant while surviving cold winter weather as well.

The plant originated in China and India and its name came from the Song of Solomon 2:1. The name however came from a later location. Those who gave monikers to plants monikers assumed originally that this plant came from the Sharon Plain on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Swedish botanist, Linneaeus, the father of scientific naming added to the confusion with the species name syriacus which means from Syria. Modern Biblical scholars think the plant mentioned in the Biblical verse refers to one of several other plants.

Rose of Sharon fits a variety of locations prettily because it can be trimmed as a low-growins shrub or into a small tree. Left to their own devices, these plants generally grow 8- to 12-feet tall by 4 to 6 feet wide in an upright, vase-shaped form.

The flowers look a lot like hollyhock blossoms. These 5-petaled edible blossoms come in a wide range of colors. They produce one of the few true-blue flowers but they also bloom in white, white, pink, red, lavender, purple, mauve and violet. To add to the symphony, they also produce in bicolors with a different colored throat, depending upon the cultivar. Bees and sometimes hummingbirds are attracted to them.

The English have always been great plant collectors. When Rose of Sharon first arrived there, they thought it was cold tender and grew it inside their homes. Once word got out that it could survive winter, its popularity increased.

Original varieties were prolific seeders and sometimes became weedy as the seeds dropped. Hybridization helped develop varieties that were more grower friendly. Triploid cultivars developed at the National Arboretum in Washington DC, are a great improvement because the plants are sterile. It does not expend energy in setting seeds – instead it blooms profusely.

The triploid plants were named for goddesses. ‘Minerva’ has lavender-pink flowers with a red center. ‘Aprhodite’ has dark pink flowers with a red center.  ‘Diana’ has white flowers. ‘Helene’ has white flowers with a red center. ‘Lady Stanley,’ ‘Lucy,’ ‘Blushing Bride,’ and ‘Ardens’ are other popular varieties.

The plants prefer full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soils with abundant organic matter. They adapt well to most soils, however as long as the pH isn’t too high. Avoid poorly drained soils and avoid overwatering, which causes iron chlorosis.

Blooms form on twigs that grow in the summer so prune in late winter — not summer. Summer pruning removes flower buds that formed and will flower during that season. Prune to keep the plant at the height you want. Heavy pruning before leaves appear gives fewer, but larger flowers.

Like daylilies, the flowers close after one day of blooming but stay on the plant for several days. They may also form brown seedpods. The flowers will continue to appear over a period of weeks.

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