By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Prolific beautiful red blooms
Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, is our featured plant this week. It is a popular spreading herbaceous shrub with tall upright woody stems growing up to 4’ wide and high. It has large light to dark green leaves which provide contrast to the bright red hibiscus-like flowers. But first, some interesting history.
It is named for a naturalist, Thomas Drummond (1790-1835) who made a trip to America to collect plant and bird specimens. In March of 1833 he arrived at Velasco, Texas and started work. He collected 750 species of plants, one of which was Turk’s Cap. The genus name, Malvaviscus comes from the Latin malva meaning mallow and viscidus meaning sticky. The flower petals twist around the reproductive stamens and pistil, producing a shape like the Turkish fez, which gives rise to its common name, Turk’s Cap.
This perennial plant is native to central Texas, south into Mexico and east to Florida. Its native habitat is along streams and in wooded limestone areas. It will grow in a variety of soil types, is drought tolerant, and will grow in full sun to part shade proving to be a great ornamental plant for shady areas. Turk’s cap grows well when planted in local beds with some watering. Since this plant grows tall and wide you may want to keep it pruned to the size that fits the area you are planting; when cut back periodically it is an excellent tall ground cover. If you let it grow, use it as a background plant or an understory plant under tall trees. I grow it together with Pigeon Berry, Rivinia humilis, Cedar Sage, Salvia romeriana, and Inland Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium under neighboring Live Oaks. At the end of winter, cut the entire plant back to about 5”. It will seem like the whole thing is gone but will spring back to life after the last freeze. It flowers best in hot weather at the end of summer and into fall. The marble sized edible red fruit, which can be eaten raw or cooked, taste somewhat like a mealy apple. There are also several different colored, (white, pink, red) cultivars available. The only con we have found is that it does produce suckers from the base which are easily cut to avoid spreading.
In addition to its versatility in the garden, Turk’s Cap also has habitat value providing nectar for hummingbirds and pollinators such as bees, moths. and butterflies. Birds are attracted to its fruit. I often see mockingbirds in my yard feasting on the fruit.
If you are looking for a striking, fast-growing plant, this one is for you. Turk’s Cap is available in spring and summer at most local nurseries.
If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.
Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org. Click on “Resources”.