What is Malvaviscus?

O. Parker

Malvaviscus is a flowering perennial plant in the Malvaceae family, which is made up of more than 200 genera of plants that include both hibiscus and mallow. Common names associated with malvaviscus are Turk’s cap, wax mallow, mazapan, and sleeping hibiscus. Other common names are Texas mallow, Mexican apple, and bleeding hearts. Native to Mexico and southern Texas, malvaviscus requires a humid, warm climate.

Malvaviscus will grow in clay soil.
Malvaviscus will grow in clay soil.

The common name, sleeping hibiscus, is derived from the distinctive nature of the flowers. The blooms are bright red and shaped like a permanently closed hibiscus or mallow flower. The petals overlap one another, remaining closed, while the stamen emerges from the center. It is said to resemble a Turkish turban, leading to its alternate common name Turk’s cap. The full scientific name is Malvaviscus penduliflorus.

Malvaviscus grows from 3 feet to 10 feet (about 1 m to 3 m) tall and commonly grows about as wide as it is tall. The flowers are from 2 inches to 3 inches (about 5 cm to 7.5 cm) long. The first blooms emerge in early spring and blooms continue to come in through late fall. In late summer and early fall when the weather is hot, malvaviscus flowers bloom in abundance. The deciduous leaves are about 8 inches (20 cm) long and shaped like an oval. The lush green leaves provide a rich contrast to the bright red flowers.

Soil requirements for malvaviscus are similar to mallow and hibiscus plants; all thrive in a loamy, well-draining area. In the home garden, however, sleeping hibiscus is adaptable and will grow in a range of soil conditions, including heavy clay, as long as the soil is not consistently saturated. A pH of 6.8 to 7.2 is ideal, but it will tolerate a range of pH soil conditions.

Malvaviscus thrives in hot, humid climates and in sub-tropical areas as long as winters remain frost-free. An area that gets full sun is preferable, but partial to full shade is tolerated. Malvaviscus can withstand periods of drought, though some leaf loss may result. Pruning is performed in the winter when the plant is in a semi-dormant state. Malvaviscus can be pruned heavily to maintain size and shape without damaging the plant.

Propagation is achieved from stem cuttings or from seed. The seeds are collected in the fall and stored until the following spring, when they are planted either outdoors or in nursery pots. Seeds should be planted no deeper than 0.25 to 0.5 inch (about 1 cm). Stem cuttings root easily and produce a new plant faster than seed propagation. Soft and semi-hardwood cuttings are taken in the late summer and rooted indoors in a humid environment.

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