Globe Mallow-Bewitching Bloom, Fair Foliage

On the heels of celebrating blooms with May Dreams Garden and foliage with Digging, I can’t help but think about the Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, which is graced with both characteristics in abundance.

With fuzzy, ruffly gray-green leaves and orange dreamsicle blooms, the Globe Mallow is botanical eye candy.

But it’s also drought tolerant and hardy, so its marriage of beauty and brawn makes for a sexy and solid relationship! Globe Mallow is certainly a great perennial for the home garden in Central Texas.

For years I  thought the “globe mallow” that is commonly available in Austin nurseries was a native shrub, but that’s not the case.  The gray-leafed and orange-bloomed “globe mallow” that most Austin gardeners pine for and plant is usually the Sphaeralcea ambigua and isn’t native to Texas according the the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant database. The native-to-Texas orange-blossomed “globe mallow” is Sphaeralcea incana  and the only place I’ve ever seen it sold is at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Fall or Spring plant sale.  For whatever reason, it appears that the S.ambigua has cornered the commercial nursery market.  The Texas Sphaeralcea incana grows from a tap-root, so it might be more difficult to propagate or perhaps it’s harder to grow by seed. Regardless, the S.ambigua, Globe Mallow, works well for us in the Austin area. The Globe Mallow is a perennial that I like, but I’ve only experienced moderate success with it.

I’ve planted several of these lovely mallow shrubs.  The first was planted beside a Mt. Laurel, Sophora secundiflora and that was a majestic plant combination. Unfortunately I have no pictures, but imagine in cool, verdant March, the pairing of Mt. Laurel’s deep, glossy foliage, dripping with rich purple blooms planted alongside the airy gray foliage and orange flowers of the Globe Mallow–it’s a stunning sight.  I grew that combination for several years until the Globe Mallow sputtered in the increasing shade of an Oak tree. It grew leggy and thin, plus it stopped producing those gorgeous blooms.  I moved the mallow to this spot where it still didn’t receive enough sun to do much of anything except to flop over.

Then I transplanted it here,

…in the middle of my large perennial garden and purchased a couple of companions to keep it company.

For the first year the transplanted Globe Mallow performed well in the garden, though the newly planted mallows puttered along, with limited growth.

As I’ve written before, the biggest frustration with my gardens is the amount of “part-shade” I have.  My back gardens, which were once full sun, have less of that sun every year.  Darn trees.   My ill-fortune with Globe Mallow is a prime example of my part-sun predicament. This group of three were okay in that spot, but still didn’t quite receive enough sun to perform their best. They grew and they even bloomed in spring.

The foliage was stellar,

…but I wanted more orange-blossom beauty!

As the plants matured and the Oak trees cast shadows over the garden, the Globe Mallow would leeaan into the available sun, so they ended up looking a little silly.

This past year, I moved those listing mallows again, only this time to my front gardens.  One is here,

…planted in a strip garden, along with Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea and annual Sunflower.  These are just on the edge of my property.  Really, just on the edge. Don’t ask what I was thinking when I planted the mallow there, I have no idea. But I’m not moving it. I’m not moving it.  I’m not moving it. Transplanting woody perennials (like mallows) is tricky, so that’s not happening again.  

Except if I need to find more direct sun for them!

The second Globe Mallow is planted down the property line, nearer to the street.

I like this group with the Globe Mallow: Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, the not-in-bloom-yet Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, Mexican Feathergrass and Soft-leaf Yucca,  Yucca recurvifolia.

With this move, both Globe Mallows are doing quite well–finally, they get a full 6 hours of sun, year round. And that, kids,  is the trick with Globe Mallow success: they really do need FULL SUN. None of this part-sun, part-shade nonsense. They enjoy being tortured by the death rays of the Southwest Sun.  And why not?  These are desert plants–native to sandy, rocky soils and arid climates and the furnace blast of the sun.

My experience is that Globe Mallow bloom fully in the spring and again in fall, taking a rest during summer.  This one though has bloomed sporadically throughout this summer, which was a treat.

I recently pruned the mallow back a bit, as it was lolling over everything around it. Like many in the Malvaceae family, Globe Mallow flowers best on new wood, so pruning for tidiness also enhances blossom production.

According to the Wildflower Center, the Sphaeralcea are important plants for native bees, but I haven’t noticed bees favoring my blossoms.  Again, the S. ambigua is not native to the Austin area, or Texas, for that matter, so that might explain why I haven’t seen significant numbers of native bees at my flowers–other gardeners may experience differently.  If you plant the S. incana, the native bees in your neighborhood surely will enjoy the blooms.

One more note about “globe mallows” in Austin.  I’ve seen the Sphaeralcea angustifolia, also called Globe Mallow, for sale at Austin nurseries.  I don’t have that plant in my garden, but click here for the Wildflower Center’s database photos.  It produces similar foliage to the other two discussed, but blossom color ranges from pink to purple. Like the S. incana, it’s also native to Texas, as well as other Western states.

Stunning foliage and lovely mallow flowers,

…extend an invitation for Sphaeralcea shrubs to take their place in the sun and in your gardens.

7 thoughts on “Globe Mallow-Bewitching Bloom, Fair Foliage

  1. Trowels up for all the mallow love here. I am quite smitten with those orange blooms – can’t help imagining them in tandem with purple heart, coneflowers, verbena…anything purple. The Ladybird Johnson plant sale is so far off. Have you had any luck gathering seed on yours? I’m off to scrub the internet for a seed source right. this. minute!


    • My mallows have never seeded out and I’ve heard other gardeners say the same. That makes sense if the ones that are purchased from local nurseries aren’t native and don’t have their particular pollinator in action. So, i don’t know. I haven’t made the Wildflower sale in a couple of seasons, but I always notice that the S. incana are listed as sale items. October. It’s a long way off.


  2. This is a plant I will have to enjoy vicariously. Love your idea of planting it with rock rose & TexasDeb’s suggestion of planting those grey leaves next to purple heart sounds so perfect.


    • Well, I almost have vicarious joy with this perennial, too. I wish I could be more successful with it, but I’m hopeful that where I’ve moved the two remaining will get enough sun to do their globe mallow thing.


  3. I had great success with both the native globe mallows (red) and the orange, nonnative mallows when I first planted them a few years ago. But the natives died off (short-lived, I expect), and the nonnatives just don’t bloom for me like they used to, even in hot sun out by the curb. I do prune them in late Feb. — maybe that’s the wrong time? Not sure, but I’m considering pulling them up and replanting new ones just to get those frosty orange blooms again.


    • I’m with you Pam-I’m willing to replace these mallows if they decline. Those blooms and foliage are such great additions to our gardens. I hope mine bloom more in their new sunnier home.


  4. Pingback: Gettin’ the Good Stuff | My Gardener Says…

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