(Hibiscus Moscheutos) Mallow family

Flowers - Very large, clear rose pink, sometimes white, often

with crimson center, 4 to 7 in. across, solitary, or clustered on

peduncles at summit of stems. Calyx 5-cleft, subtended by

numerous narrow bractlets; 5 large, veined petals; stamens united

into a valvular column bearing anthers on the outside for much of

its length; 1 pistil partly enclosed in the column, and with five

button-tipped stigmatic branches above. Stem: 4 to 7 ft. tall,

stout, from perennial root. Leaves: 3 to 7 in. long, tapering,

pointed, egg-shaped, densely white, downy beneath lower leaves,

or sometimes all, lobed at middle.

Preferred Habitat - Brackish marshes, riversides, lake shores,

saline situations.

Flowering Season - August-September.

Distribution - Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico, westward to

Louisiana; found locally in the interior, but chiefly along

Atlantic seaboard.

Stately ranks of these magnificent flowers, growing among the

tall sedges and "cat-tails" of the marshes, make the most

insensate traveler exclaim at their amazing loveliness. To reach

them one must don rubber boots and risk sudden seats in the

slippery ooze; nevertheless, with spade in hand to give one

support, it is well worthwhile to seek them out and dig up some

roots to transplant to the garden. Here, strange to say, without

salt soil or more water than the average garden receives from

showers and hose, this handsomest of our wild flowers soon makes

itself delightfully at home under cultivation. Such good, deep

earth, well enriched and moistened, as the hollyhock thrives in,

suits it perfectly. Now we have a better opportunity to note how

the bees suck the five nectaries at the base of the petals and

collect the abundant pollen of the newly opened flowers, which

they perforce transfer to the five button-shaped stigmas

intentionally impeding the entrance to older blossoms. Only its

cousin the hollyhock, a native of China, can vie with the

rose-mallow's decorative splendor among the shrubbery; and the

ROSE OF CHINA (Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis), cultivated in greenhouses

here, eclipse it in the beauty of the individual blossom. This

latter flower, whose superb scarlet corolla stains black, is

employed by the Chinese married women, it is said, to discolor

their teeth; but in the West Indies it sinks to even greater

ignominy as a dauber for blacking shoes!

MARSH MALLOW (Althaea officinalis), a name frequently misapplied

to the swamp rose-mallow, is properly given to a much smaller

pink flower, measuring only an inch and a half across at the

most, and a far rarer one, being a naturalized immigrant from

Europe found only in the salt marshes from the Massachusetts

coast to New York. It is also known as WYMOTE. This is a bushy,

leafy plant, two to four feet high, and covered with velvety down

as a protection against the clogging of its pores by the moisture

arising from its wet retreats. Plants that live in swamps must

"perspire" freely and keep their pores open. From the marsh

mallow's thick roots the mucilage used in confectionery is

obtained, a soothing demulcent long esteemed in medicine. Another

relative, the OKRA or GUMBO PLANT of vegetable gardens (Hibiscus

esculentus), has mucilage enough in its narrow pods to thicken a

potful of soup. Its pale yellow, crimson-centered flowers are

quite as beautiful as any hollyhock, but not nearly so

conspicuous, because of the plant's bushy habit of growth. In

spite of its name, the ALTHAEA of our gardens, or ROSE OF SHARON

(Hibiscus Syriacus), is not so closely allied to Althaea

officinalis as to the swamp rose-mallow.

Another immigrant from Europe and Asia sparingly naturalized in

waste places and roadsides in Canada, the United States, and


(Malva sylvestris). Its purplish-rose flowers, from which the

French have derived their word mauve, first applied to this

plant, appear in small clusters on slender pedicels from the leaf

axils along a leafy, rather weak, but ascending stem, maybe only

a foot high, or perhaps a yard, throughout the summer months. The

leaf, borne on a petiole two to six inches long, is divided into

from five to nine shallow, angular, or rounded saw-edged lobes.

Country children eat unlimited quantities of the harmless little

circular, flattened "cheeses" or seed vessels, a characteristic

of the genus Malva. Since the flower invites a great number of

insects to feast on its nectar, secreted in five little pits

(protected for them from the rain by hairs at the base of the

petals), and compels its visitors to wipe off pollen brought from

the pyramidal group of anthers in a newly opened blossom to the

exserted, radiating stigmas of older ones, the mallow produces

more cheeses than all the dairies of the world. So rich is its

store of nectar that the hive-bee, shut out from a legitimate

entrance to the flower when it closes in the late afternoon,

climbs up the outside of the calyx, and inserting his tongue

between the five petals, empties the nectaries one after another

- intelligent rogue that he is!

The LOW, DWARF, or RUNNING MALLOW (M. rotundifolia), a very

common little weed throughout our territory, Europe, and Asia,

depends scarcely at all upon insects to transfer its pollen, as

might be inferred from its unattractive pale blue to white

flowers, that measure only about half an inch across. In default

of visitors, its pollen-laden anthers, instead of drooping to get

out of the way of the stigmas, as in the showy high mallow,

remain extended so as to come in contact with the rough, sticky

sides of the long curling stigmas. The leaves of this spreading

plant, which are nearly round, with five to nine shallow,

saw-edged lobes, are thin, and furnished with long petioles;

whereas the flowers which spring from their axils keep close to

the main stem. Usually there are about fifteen rounded carpels

that go to make up the Dutch, doll, or fairy cheeses, as the seed

vessels are called by children. Only once is the mallow mentioned

in the Bible, and then as food for the most abject and despised

poor (Job 30: 4); but as eighteen species of mallow grow in

Palestine, who is the higher critic to name the species eaten?

Occasionally we meet by the roadside in Canada, the Eastern,

Middle, and Southern States pink, sometimes white, flowers, about

two inches across, growing in small clusters at the top of a stem

a foot or two high, the whole plant emitting a faint odor of

musk. If the stem leaves are deeply divided into several narrow,

much-cleft segments, and the little cheeses are densely hairy, we

may safely call the plant MUSK MALLOW (M. moschata), and expect

to find it blooming throughout the summer.

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