A showy native hibiscus with great wildlife benefit
|Hibiscus moscheutos, swamp mallow,|
People who say ‘natives aren’t showy’ have never seen our native hibiscus! Hibiscus moscheutos has a wide distribution in the continental U.S.; from New York down to Florida, and west as far as Utah. Like any plant that grows in so many places, it comes with a slew of common names: swamp mallow, rose mallow, rose-eyed and crimson-eyed swamp or rose mallow, hibiscus mallow, and even marshmallow hibiscus. More about that last one later! But by any name, this plant’s a winner!
|Swamp mallow can be white or pink|
Growing swamp mallow
As you might guess, swamp mallow is found naturally in areas that are near, or even in, water, and it makes a super candidate for use in rain gardens. However, Janet Davis, who grows and sells this plant at her Hill House Farm and Nursery in Castleton, VA, says that swamp mallow is more versatile than the name suggests. It does quite well in a variety of soils and sites. If a garden is not wet, then afternoon shade or bright open shade all day will off-set the lack of moisture, she says; and their deep taproots help them through drought conditions. Janet also notes that Japanese beetles love the leaves, but since the plant is tall and the blooms large, it can be placed in the background or a bit of a distance where the holes won’t bother anybody.
|Red-wing blackbird dining on insects provided by swamp|
Swamp mallow is a member of the family, Malvacea, or mallow. In ages past, another Malvacea, the marsh mallow, was the source for a juice extracted from the mashed roots. When mixed with sugar and egg white, this juice turned into a concoction used first as cough suppressant before it went totally to the dark side and morphed into the candy, marshmallow, that we know today.
Swamp mallow is easily grown from seed. Be sure to look for pods that have not been attacked by weevils. Weevil damage can be detected by the presence of holes in the sides of the pods. Harvest the seeds when you find them and store in the refrigerator until spring. Seed pods of Hibiscus moscheutos make great additions to flower arrangements, and are interesting for children to examine, too. The seeds are black, shiny, and round, and packaged in neat little compartments.
|Blue heron standing behind blooming swamp mallow plants|
Give this showy native a try; and if you have a rain garden opportunity in your yard or community, you definitely want to use a few swamp mallows. Plant More Plants has made a variety of free downloadable plans for you to use in rain gardens in a variety of settings: borders, corners, as hedgerows and with trees: Plant More Plants Rain Garden Plans