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.

 

Foliage Follow-Up, June 2015

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in showing off foliage after bragging about blooms, but today I’m glad to join in with Pam at Digging for Foliage Follow-Up. Additionally, June 15-21 is Pollinator Week and along with fab foliage, we’ll take a look at a few of the many pollinators that happily and diligently work for free in the garden.

Many of my native Texas perennials shoot forth in foliage growth during wet years and this year is no exception to that general rule. The leaves of Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, are wide and lush and a bit holey, due to munching insects abundant this spring and summer.

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I don’t really mind the chunks taken out because those eating machines do little damage to the plant as a whole.  The Turk’s Cap flowers are good for pollinators like this hummingbird who happily nectared last fall in preparation for migration.

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Turk’s Cap foliage complements other interesting foliage, like the slender, bright leaves of Flame  AcanthusAnisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii,

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…and the gray, aromatic leaves of Heartleaf SkullcapScutellaria ovata.

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 Both Flame Acanthus and Heartleaf Skullcap are excellent pollinator plants.

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Oops!  That damselfly visiting the Flame Acanthus is a beneficial insect in the garden, but not a pollinator.

On the other hand, Ms. Honeybee, nectaring on the Skullcap, is certainly a pollinator worth cheering on.

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The sandpaper-rough, dark foliage of the perennial GoldeneyeViguiera dentata, pairs nicely with the soft, ruffly foliage of Globe MallowSphaeralcea ambigua.  

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Goldeneye flowers,

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…and Globemallow flowers,

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…attract all kinds of pollinators and both are favored by native bees.

 

Mountain LaurelSophora secundiflora, is a beautiful tree year-round. Waxy, softly rounded, evergreen foliage perfectly augments the lusciously drooping clusters of spring flowers, which are visited by many kinds of pollinators.

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After the blooms have ended, the foliage is attractive–really attractive.

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Mountain Laurel blooms are stunning, but the abundant and verdant foliage, as well as the graceful form of this tree is its selling point for me.

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Mountain Laurel is a winner–in the urban garden or viewing on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

Finally, this ‘Sparkler’Carex phyllocephala, has no value to pollinators that I’m aware of.

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But I’ve welcomed it and two more to my gardens.  It’s cheery–downright sparkly–evergreen and white, as well as drought tolerant.  What more could you ask from a foliage-driven plant?

What are your leafy greens (or maybe purples? reds?) doing this June?  Show them off and then pop over to Digging for a look at foliage shared by other gardeners.

 

Bloom Day, June 2015

Thanking Carol at May Dreams Gardens for the opportunity to share blooms, I’m joining in with a few of my own June picks and pics!  May was a wet month in my garden–17 inches wet–and many of my plants have enjoyed foliage growth, but are lagging behind in flower production.

Additionally, this week of June 15–21 is Pollinator Week, which is promoted by Pollinator Partnership, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to the advocation and protection of pollinators.  Pollinators of all sorts–bees, butterflies, moths, bats and birds–are required for much of our food production and are vital to a healthy ecosystem. Of course home gardeners know this and those of us who honor blooms are keenly aware of the synchronicity of those blooms and their pollinators.

This Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis,  is a common visitor to my gardens.

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Here, she contentedly works the bloom of a Engelmann or Cutleaf DaisyEngelmannia peristenia.  Most of the blooms in my gardens attract something in the pollinator category–whether I get it in photo form, or not.

Heartleaf SkullcapScutellaria ovata, a great friend to the above bee species, maintains its grey-blue garden invasion, though it’s past its blooming peak for this year.

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It combines well with other blooming perennials, including Turk’s CapMalvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii.

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Turk’s Cap has grown tall and the foliage is lush.  The flowers are finally appearing in great numbers–tardy for this long-flowering native shrub.

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I’m so glad it’s blooming and I’m sure the hummingbirds are too.

Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, are gracing the garden with a second flush of tubular beauty on this hardy vine.

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With lots of rose action for this June Bloom Day, the Knock-Out rose delivers its usual stellar standards of bloom quality.

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Subtler blooms open on the old Jackson and Perkins pretty-in-pink, Simplicity rose.

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There are two Simplicity shrubs remaining from the seven planted before I moved into this house in 1985.  Tough and beautiful roses, I thank the former owners for their choice.  While I’ve never observed native bees at either of these two rose plants, honeybees, butterflies, and moths are frequent visitors.

Continuing the pink parade are the blooms of the Red YuccaHesperaloe parviflora, flower stalkswhich are not red at all,

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… and Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala,

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… and WinecupCallirhoe involucrata,

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…and Four O’ClocksMirabilis jalapa,

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…and the pink-to-my eyes, Purple ConeflowerEchinacea purpurea.

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Coneflowers are convivial and play nicely with everyone in the garden.  They are constantly friended by a variety of butterflies, like this skipper.

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…and make good garden buddies to many other plants, like lavender.

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I wish I could remember the name of the lavender variety.  It’s a wise gardener who keeps plant labels. Alas, I’m not always a wise gardener and sometimes lose my labels to  the jumble of my supply and equipment shelves–or to the compost pile. The lavender variety that grows in my garden accepts the twists-n-turns of Central Texas’ extremes of drought-n-flood.

Shaking up the pink and adding some orange crush to the garden is the unknown passalong variety of daylily blooms that are now unfurling their glory each morning.

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Welcome to summer!

What gorgeous flowers do you have in the garden this June?  Please share and then pop over to May Dreams Gardens for a look at blooms from around the world.  And if you don’t have flowers that attract a variety of pollinators, check out your local nursery and purchase some plants or seeds–herbicide and pesticide free–to give pollinators a place to thrive.