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Meet some marvelous mallows

Don’t be fooled by the moniker. Mallows are some of Texas’ toughest plants — and an easy way to add carefree color to your summer landscape.

The scorching summer heat may take a toll on local gardeners, but many native plants continue to thrive even in these sizzling conditions.

Let’s take a dive into Malvaceae, the marvelous mallow family. Don’t be fooled by the moniker that suggests soft, pillowy puffs. Mallows are some are the Texas-toughest plants around.

You’re probably already familiar with a few since they’re economically important and used across the globe by humans and wildlife alike. The most instantly recognizable member is hibiscus, thanks to the showy flowers that add tropical color to both landscapes and Jamaican agua fresca.

But you’ll see the family resemblance in the flowers of all its relatives, including Texas’ largest crop — cotton — and okra, which happens to be a great choice for beginner vegetable gardeners as it sprouts easily and stands tall in Texas summer. Even marshmallows were originally made with the root of (you guessed it) the marsh mallow!

Now let’s meet some native Texas mallows that can make even the dreariest summer landscape look vibrant and cheerful.

Turk’s cap  Fully shaded dry areas can be difficult to fill in with color, but Turk’s cap does it in both home landscapes and in the wild. The bright red blooms never fully open, but that doesn’t bother the hummingbirds who flock to this nectar-rich native plant. The flowers, fruits and even tender leaves are edible for humans. (Try tossing Turk’s cap flowers in your homemade pancakes!)

Narrow-leaf mallow – never stops blooming! It tolerates full sun and part-shade. The flowers are borne along upright stems up to about 5 feet tall and can be pink, white, lavender, red, orange and everything in between.
heartleaf hibiscusHeartleaf hibiscus  is another year-round bloomer that stands out in summertime while most other plants are taking a break from flowering. The crimson bloom — with a classic hibiscus flower-shape of five broad petals and a central pistil, stamen, and stigma — is a drought-hardy alternative to Hawaiian hibiscus. It will tolerate full sun and grows well in pots too.
Velvetleaf mallow – is the tallest plant on this list, with woody stems that can reach over 6 feet tall. With semi-evergreen, silvery green leaves, it’s an excellent choice to give your xeric garden a lush look. The blooms are an iridescent golden color. Like Turk’s cap, it does appreciate a little bit of shade.

Although Turk’s cap is well known in local landscaping, the last three species are less commonplace even though they’re all tough summer bloomers, deer resistant, water-smart and gorgeous.

The good news is that native plant nurseries in San Antonio have taken notice and started carrying them. So, check them out and add some carefree color to your summer!

Kevin Pride
Kevin Pride
Kevin is a SAWS Conservation Field Investigator and a self-proclaimed nature boy. He has a background in restoration ecology and is zealous about native plant landscapes that use zero irrigation. Kevin spends his free time deep underground surveying caves or hiking barefoot with his daughter, Daisy, and their dog.
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