Monday, October 24, 2011

Native Plant: Turk's Cap, Sleepy Mallow

I first saw Turk's cap (aka sleepy mallow, sleeping hibiscus, and a slew of other names) at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden last fall. The intensely red blooms were irresistible; it's possible I'm part hummingbird.  I made a note to find out something about the plant and look for it in the spring.

You know how it is with these things a lot of the time, if you see it once, suddenly you see it everywhere.

I ran across it in Gardening with Native Plants of the South while looking for something else, and learned the Latin name, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii.  What?! Native plant?  It looks so exotic!  I would have to add one to my garden.

I heard about it in class at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden.

I saw it at JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh and found out there is a pink cultivar, 'Pam Puryear'.  There are also white and variegated leaved cultivars.

Plant Facts
  • It is native to the southern US and Mexico.
  • It is a fast-growing, deciduous shrub.
  • It is hardy in zones 8 - 10 (cultivar 'Big Momma' hardy in 7)
  • Usual height is 3 or 4 feet tall, but the ones in full sun at JCRA were at least 5 feet tall.
  • Will tolerate dry soil, but prefers regular, even moisture.
  • Is especially nice in a shady situation, even though it will tolerate sun.
  • The edible fruit is a small, red berry (manzanilla) which tastes apple-like.  Birds and small mammals will eat them, too.
  • You can propagate it by taking softwood cuttings, or planting seeds.
  • Hummingbirds and butterflies are fond of the plant's nectar.
  • It blooms from mid-summer well into fall.    

Finally, I saw Malvaviscus 'Big Momma' at Pike's and snatched it up!

You might think these are immature flowers since they appear to be closed tight like buds, but this is as open as they ever get.  It's one little detail about this plant that I find rather irritating.  I want those petals to unfurl!  The beautiful spots of red (in the shade!), that you can see from quite a distance away, more than make up for it.

Plant Delights says Malvaviscus repel deer.  Deer resistance is listed as moderate at  Since most of the leaves on my plant have been stripped off recently by deer, I will protect mine for now with a repellent.

Photo below is the full-sized 'Big Momma' specimen at JCRA, taken in early September.

Can't you see one in your yard?  You will love it!


Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, The Archive of central Texas plants, University of Texas (more information with photos, including the fruits)


  1. Oh wow, it's amazing. I think I should have been born in Mexico!

  2. Finally, at last! You have identified a mystery plant in Barbara's garden,now my garden I've been taking care of. One of about a dozen left unidentified. Thanks for the post--these plants have thrived in SC summer mixed shade and sun.

  3. I can definitely see one in my garden! Thanks for introducing it to me. It really is exotic looking!

  4. lorna, mexico does seem to have an amazing flora -- two great plants in a row on my blog!

    jim, i'm glad to help! good luck with the rest of your identifications. thanks for the comment.

    ginny, i bet your yard is perfect for one of these. i can see one there, too!

  5. Well, you have cleared up a mystery for me. I have never seen one in person, but in pictures I always wondered what the flower looked like "opened". Now I know - they don't! I'll have to be on the look out for this one!

  6. This used to be a mystery plant to me as well. It was growing in the yard of our house when we bought it years ago. Never knew hummingbirds loved until we saw some at it this summer. I wanted to enter some in our local flower show that's going on right now, but mine are very much in decline at this point in the year.