Birds Love ‘Em, Bees Love ‘Em

Bees love ’em.

Butterflies love ’em.

Hummingbirds really love ’em. Unfortunately, I’m not a good enough photographer to catch a hummingbird feeding.  You’ll just have to take my word for it!

I love ’em too.  Turk’s Cap, (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), is one of the first native plants that I fell in love with many years ago.  Turk’s Cap is a deciduous  perennial that  thrives in just about any situation.  It’s a staple in the shady garden, but also does  well in full sun.  It can handle severe drought, but doesn’t rot when we endure occasional floods.  An excellent nectar source (for the above mentioned critters) it also produces a fruit that birds and little mammals love.  (Some might take an exception to my inclusion of squirrels as desirable wildlife, but they are wild, and they are life and they do live amongst us.)  Turk’s Cap also does well in a variety of soil types.  Aside from the difficult soils that we have in Central Texas, I have also seen these plants growing in sandy Texas coastal areas and they do well there too, with the exception that they will dry out more rapidly.  But in Central Texas, one can’t have a more reliable plant in the garden.

Turk’s Cap has a small, bright red bloom that looks like a tiny hibiscus which never quite got around to opening up.

Like hibiscus, Turk’s Cap is in the Mallow family, so the similarity makes sense.  The petals swirl around the stamen, which protrudes upwards and outwards from the center.  The leaves are palm-shaped and tropical looking (again, that Mallow thing).  In the Austin area, Turk’s Cap bloom from May until November–a wonderfully  long and prolific bloom cycle!  They bloom well in full sun, shade and anything in between.

I believe that Turk’s Cap is classified as a shrub, but I always think of it as a herbaceous perennial.  The plant grows from the base at the soil line in long stems.    As the plant grows taller and the roots colonize outwards, Turk’s Cap take on the appearance of a large shrub, especially In established plants (more than 3 years old).

Several of my Turk’s Cap shrubs are easily 12-15 feet in diameter–they are also 10-15 years old.  In normal years, they reach 5-6 feet in height. In wet years (gosh, do I remember those??), Turk’s Cap require pruning to keep the long stems from flopping over. Because of the drought this year, all of my Turk’s Cap are a little shorter in height than normal.

I mentioned in my post about Goldeneye that the Turk’s Cap  behind a stand of Goldeneye (above photo) in my front garden should be taller, but was dwarfed by the drought.  For that particular plant, I only water when I can remember or when it looks sad. It also receives afternoon sun. Perhaps if I’d watered a bit more, it would be closer to its normal height.

The extreme heat this year didn’t seem to have any negative effect on the blooms or the  appearance of leaves in any Turk’s Cap that I’ve grown–unlike some plants which developed sun burn.

Once our nights begin to cool (whew!!) and the sun is less harsh, Turk’s Cap bloom less and some of the leaves will turn yellow.  Turk’s Cap are definitely summer superstars and are not necessarily the most attractive fall plant. They will continue to bloom minimally and they produce fruits, so they remain an excellent wildlife food source well into the fall and even winter months.

The fruits are about 1/2 inch in diameter and are green, then turn red.  Both are visible in this photo:

When we get a hard freeze, the plant’s leaves will drop and the stems die.   For most of this past decade, my Turk’s Caps have remained at least partially green through most of the winter.  During some winters, the whole plant remained green-stems and leaves.  Because we experienced some very hard freezes in the winters of 2010 and 2011, almost all of mine died to the ground.  Regardless of how the winter temperatures affect Turk’s Cap, I prune the stems to the ground in late January/early February because I get tired of looking at sticks.

Every Texas gardener, especially those in Central Texas, should include Turk’s Cap as a part of the the palette of plants in their garden.

More on Turk’s Cap to follow…

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