Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii): A Seasonal Look

Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus  was one of the first native plants that I became acquainted with when I began my native plants gardening adventure.

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From the beginning, I was smitten.

Over the years, I’ve  planted  seven Turk’s Cap shrubs, all of which spread and developed into large specimen plants which anchor several of my garden beds during the course of the long growing seasons here in sunny Austin, Texas.

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Turk’s Cap is a native southern United States plant, but is also native to Mexico and Cuba.  There are cultivars of this plant, like ‘Big Momma’, (who names these??) , that are listed as herbaceous perennials in USDA gardening zones 7-10.  Though this native Texan dies to the ground during our normal winters (except in South Texas), this hardy shrub emerges every spring and gifts to the garden and wildlife a long and prolific parade of blooms and fruits.IMGP0440.new

The Turk’s Cap is not picky about soil, nor does it need much water once established. Considered an understory plant, Turk’s Caps are best in shade,

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…but flourish in full sun and anything in between.  In full sun, the leaves will turn downwards, darken, and crinkle in a manner that many gardeners find unattractive.   The plant looks like it’s struggling in the blazing sun and heat, but even under those conditions, Turk’s Cap is a tough and drought hardy perennial. All of my Turk’s Cap shrubs grow in shade to part-shade and in fairly heavy soil, but I’ve seen others perform beautifully in full sun while planted in sand.    In shade and part shade though, the foliage is lush and suggestive of plants that are tropical mallows–which Turk’s Cap is!

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Turk’s Caps are classified as shrubs, but I always think of them as a forming in a cluster or thicket and as performing more like herbaceous perennials.   They tend toward the amorphous–shooting upwards and outwards from their thick roots after winter and reaching for the sky throughout spring, summer and into autumn.

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During a wet spring, Turk’s Caps grow quickly, adding lots of stem length and leafy greens.  Over the course of the growing season, those stems can flop over and look rangy, especially once heavily laden with masses of blooms. That’s a fine way to go if you’re aiming for a casual, wild garden.  But if structure in the garden is a goal, Turk’s Caps can and should be pruned.   Here is an example of a wayward limb.

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The snipped off wayward limb allows a more formal look.  This group,

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…is one that I should have pruned back after our heavy rains in the spring and early summer (2015).  I failed to complete that little chore and now this shrub has limbs flailing and falling this-a-way and that.  I don’t think this is horrible and certainly bees, butterflies and hummingbirds have no issue with wonky limbs, but the human Turk’s Cap tender who prefers a tidier look, should keep this hardy shrub checked. This example is more representative of how I like my Turk’s Caps:

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Actually, this large bunch is one of the first Turk’s Caps that I planted and is over 20 years old.

To keep the mature Turk’s Cap well-shaped, I prune up the outside limbs to about 2 feet in height, the next group inward to about 3-4 feet in height, in a graduated form, shorter to taller, toward the middle of the shrub.  In general, I only prune for shape in late spring, with the occasional lopping off, as needed, in late summer or fall. It’s an easy, quick chore and I only prune what needs pruning.

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Here in Austin, Turk’s Caps emerge from the ground in early spring with  fresh and vibrant green foliage.

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Depending upon rainfall, Turk’s Caps will grow in a moderate to rapid pace.  If the spring is wet, the stems grow to about 4-5 feet, sometimes reaching 6 feet tall by late May, but often with little bloom development.  During drought, moderate or otherwise, the foliage growth is slowed, but flower development (at least in my garden) isn’t retarded at all.  Personally, I prefer Turk’s Caps during drought–these shrubs grow and bloom, without the rank limb development that occurs in wet years; the shrubs don’t require pruning under those circumstances and that’s a good deal for the lazy gardener.

Ahem.

Turk’s Caps begin their flower show in late spring (May in Austin) and the blooming continues throughout the summer months, with no rest.  Summer is when Turk’s Caps shine.

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Or rather, bloom like crazy.

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The shrubs produce masses of blooms, each day, with each bloom lasting for several days. In a cluster, one can find buds, blooms and those destined to become fruits.

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The petite flowers are stunning:  they remind me of a jaunty turban, complete with pollen plume.

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The Turk’s Cap belongs in the Mallow or Malvaceae family, thus sharing many characteristics with other hibiscus plants. The ruby-red, tiny hibiscus blooms never quite open.

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Bees of all kinds, butterflies, and hummingbirds love these blooms.

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Additionally, because the Turk’s Cap shrubs form thicket-like,  birds and lizards use it for cover.   Turk’s Caps are considered moderately deer resistant.

One of the things you’ll notice in these photos are holes in the foliage.  During some summers, there is munching of the wide and wonderful Turk’s Caps foliage.

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In the American garden of the past century, sterile, non-insect attracting plants were the desired garden outcome.  As we have come to realize that wildlife is seriously threatened and in decline, the wildlife-friendly gardener recognizes that insects, often the larval stage of important pollinators like butterflies and moths, will eat foliage.  Furthermore, it’s actually okay that they eat foliage–that’s what they’re supposed to do and that’s what the plant is there for.  The plant won’t die; it’s uncommon for an insect herbivore to actually kill its host plant.  It happens, but it’s not the norm.  Are the holes unattractive? Well, it depends upon whether you want foliage that looks unreal–completely pristine and untouched–or whether you understand that there is a powerful and complex food chain mechanism at work in your garden.   I like to think that the holes in the foliage are feeding beneficial insects that become pollinators or perhaps, food for  birds or small mammals.  Acceptance of some leaf damage is all about  perspective and some knowledge of the natural world. Remember that plants were invented to serve insects, birds, and mammals.

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Once fall is firmly in play, with its shorter days and eventually, cooler nights, Turk’s Cap shrubs cease blooming.  Here in Austin, that occurs in October. The fruits begin developing in late summer,

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…and turn a luscious red during the fall months.   I’ve never tasted them (not sure why, I should correct that!) but the fruits reportedly taste like apples.  The Spanish name for Turk’s Cap is Manzanilla, which means “little apple”–and you can clearly see why.

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In my garden, Blue Jays and Mockingbirds are particularly fond of these fruits.

As the days and nights cool, the Turk’s Cap foliage turns yellow.

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It’s not a particularly spectacular fall foliage display and in fact, the limbs lose some foliage and the plant becomes sparse and spindly during the cooler fall and early winter months, prior to the first hard freeze. In late fall, If my Turk’s Caps look sloppy, I trim them up just a bit  to give the shrub a neater look.

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The meager foliage in late fall is in striking contrast with the lushness that is the signature of the spring, summer, early/mid fall growth pattern.

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In my urban garden, it takes a hard freeze to completely knock the Turk’s Caps to the ground for the duration of winter.

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At that point, sticks rising from the ground is what a Turk’s Cap shrub is. I let the leaves fall as mulch and then, when I can no longer stand the brown gloom,

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…I whack them back to the ground.  That singular event, usually undertaken in late January or early February, is the major pruning that this plant requires.  The result a minimalist garden look, to say the least. It’s a good idea to pair Turk’s Cap shrubs with evergreen or structured plants so that the minimalist look is, well, minimized.  Here in Austin, winters are variable–sometimes they are consistently chilly with freezes throughout on a regular schedule; sometimes winters are very mild with no freezes at all.  In mild no-freeze winters, I usually prune the still-green limbs with a few new leaves to about 12 inches from the ground in February.

The toughest situation for plants is when a hard freeze occurs early (I define “early” as anytime in December), with the remainder of winter being mild–no hard freezes at all.  In that situation, Turk’s Caps will flush out with new growth in January or early February.  No worries though for an established Turk’s Cap plant; the early growth will be slow and if there is a hard freeze once the new growth appears, the freeze will damage the leaves and maybe the stems, but the tough plant will survive.  At that point, prune to where there is green on the stem, sit back and let spring happen.

I’ve paired some of my Turk’s Cap shrubs with a native Texas groundcover, Heartleaf Skullcap, Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata, because I like the combo of the bright green Turk’s Cap foliage mixed with the subtler, softer Heartleaf foliage throughout late winter and spring.

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Very nice.

Once past winter’s chill, Turk’s Caps flourish–in foliage and blooms.

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Turk’s Cap is a staple plant in my garden.  Lovely and reliable, it’s a rich wildlife plant, as well as being a water wise and low-maintenance plant for the gardener.

Spring

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Summer

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Fall

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Winter

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Turk’s Cap is a plant that any gardener who is interested in feeding wildlife, while also enjoying a long blooming cycle, should add to the garden.

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You’ll be happy you did.

I’m glad to join with Gail of clay and limestone to profile our wonderful native plants.  Check out the link to learn about other native plants.

 

Bloom Day, December 2014

Celebrating blooming things with Carol of May Dreams Gardens on this last Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day of 2014, I’d like to share some currently flourishing flowers from my gardens.  It’s been mild here in Austin, Texas, though a few light frosts have come our way, none were significantly cold enough to dampen the blossoming spirit.

Wonderful native perennials continue strutting their blooming stuff late this growing season. Two native salvia species are providing nice nectar sources for passing bees and butterflies and a color show for the resident gardener.   The Tropical SageSalvia coccinea, 

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Planted near to those two perennials is a group of  Texas Craglily, Echeandia texensis.  

IMGP3086.new There are few blooms left, but many seed pods readying for future golden lily loveliness.

Some of my GoldeneyeViguiera dentata, still bloom. IMGP3053.new

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I don’t really think I need to add anything to that!  These individuals face west and receive the warmth of the afternoon autumn sun.

A few Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, flowers grace the gardens as well.

IMGP3057.new I don’t recall ever seeing this plant bloom so late before–I’m not complaining.

Native to areas west of Texas, but not specifically Austin, is the Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua.   

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In my gardens it’s a reliable cool season bloomer–at least through the beginning of summer.  The one mature Globe Mallow in my gardens is beginning a nice bloom production and that’s likely to happen throughout winter.

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There are always a few Purple Coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, charming the gardens. This one is planted with an unknown variety of basil-in-bloom,IMGP3046.new

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…which I’d know the name of if I’d bothered to keep the tag.  Ahem.

And here, Coneflower is partnered with the equally sweet Four-nerve Daisy or Hymenoxys, Tetraneuris scaposa.

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I love native Texas plants.

As for the non-natives, well, they’re pretty cool, too.  The Firecracker or Coral PlantRusselia equisetiformis, requires a hard freeze to knock it back.

IMGP3059.new Obviously that hasn’t happened yet.

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I feel good about this plant–it has such a tropical look, but in reality it’s water-wise and tolerant of the cooler season.

Roses are responding in kind to our temperate December by blossoming again. Whoop!

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Glorious in vibrant red are these blooms of the Old Gay Hill rose.

Finally, the Potato VineSolanum laxum, has entered its bloom time.  This vine twines up one side of my swing beam and blossoms primarily in the cool months here in Austin. It’s a timid vine in my garden, never growing too large.    I forget about it during our long, warm  growing season–it’s there, but unimpressive. Once the temperatures cool, its lovely clusters of dainty, creamy-bell flowers provide interest for my honeybees, still foraging on warm afternoons.

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Enjoy whatever blooms you have–indoors or out.  Then check out the many bloom posts by visiting May Dreams Gardens.

 

Bloom Day, November 2014–Dodged the Frozen Bullet

After a chilly week and our first real touch of winter, there are still blooms in my gardens. Lucky gardener!  Lucky pollinators!  I live in central Austin and those supposedly in the know predicted our temperature would fall to the high 20’s by early Friday morning.  Well there was no freeze for me and mine.  Outlying areas received their first freeze, but much of  Austin was spared–this time. To celebrate those lucky blooms, I’m joining with Carol at May Dreams Gardens for November Garden Blogger blooms.

The Coral Vine, Antigonon leptopus, bloomed its signature fuchsia necklace  rather late this year.

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Now with colder temperatures and shorter days, the blossoms are fading on the vine.IMGP2341.new

I think my honeybees will miss this favorite nectar source.

The native Texas CraglilyEcheandia texensis,  still blooms, IMGP1507.new

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…though it’s going to seed. One patch blossoms in tandem with the blue Henry Duelberg SageSalvia farinacea,’Henry Duelberg’.

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A freeze would have quickly ended that pretty pairing.

Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, sports flowers this November and that’s unusual–they normally stop production by late October.IMGP2383.new

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Heavy with seed, I’ll expect more of these lovelies in seedling form next year.  Any takers?

And GoldeneyeViguiera dentata?  It just won’t quit.  This most photogenic of flowers, has bloomed since September.

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This is one of my two last blooming Goldeneye plants.

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The Goldeneye plants in the back garden bloomed first, then set seed and were followed by others throughout my gardens, each individual plant taking turn at adding cheeriness and wildlife goodness to the world.  I’m glad these hardy natives have planted themselves all over my gardens.  Bees, butterflies, birds, as well as this gardener, enjoy and appreciate a long season with these pretties.

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The last FrostweedVerbesina virginica, is in flowering mode.

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While most of that species are setting seed.

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A few Turk’s CapMalvaviscus arboreus, still bloom.

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Yellow BellsTecoma stans, ‘Esperanza’, are available for passing bees and butterflies.

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Blue MistflowerConoclinium coelestinum,

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and Gregg’s MistflowerConoclinium greggii, 

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…are toward the end of their season.  A true freeze will force the blue blooms into a tawny fluff, ready for dormancy.

Red YuccaHesperaloe parviflora, blossoms on its long bloom spike until a hard freeze.

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This hasn’t been a banner year for my salvia species.  They’ve bloomed, but not regularly nor as fully as usual.  But they aren’t quite ready to close up shop, so bloom they will until it’s just too chilly and dark.  Salvia like this red Tropical SageSalvia coccinea,

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…and this Purple Sage, S. greggii x mycrophylla,

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…and this red Autumn SageS. greggii, 

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…and another,

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…and this coral Autumn Sage.

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They’re determined, if not prolific.

The remains of Fall AsterSymphyotrichum oblongifolium, are tired of blooming and ready for seeding themselves.

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When I thought there would be freezing temperatures, I cut the last of the fall blooms of Purple ConeflowerEchinacea purpurea and Tropical Sage and did this:

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As well, I cut a few Goldeneye and basil and did this:

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I’m not much for cut flowers in the house (I much prefer a garden full of blooms), but they are nice when it’s gloomy outside. I guess November in my garden and my house is not so barren after all!

Pop on over to May Dreams Garden and enjoy a show of November blooms from all over