Malvaviscus arboreus: Wax mallow

Family: Malvaceae
Common name: Wax mallow, Turk’s cap, Red mallow, Sleeping hibiscus, Turk’s mallow, Manzanita, Manzanilla, Ladies teardrop, Scotchman’s purse, Texas mellow, Turk’s turban, Firecracker hibiscus

Wax mallow plants are excellent ornamental plants for home gardens as they produce beautiful, bright red flowers, which bloom throughout the year in warm climates. These flowering shrubs are native to Mexico and Central America but are now widely cultivated throughout the world.

Belonging to the Malvaceae family of Hibiscus, they are quite non-fussy and resistant to pests. And they are unique, since the flowers do not open fully even when they mature, the petals still overlapping one another almost fully. Hence the name Sleeping hibiscus.

Wax mallow plants are fast-growers and can reach a height of up to 3 meters. Stems are brown and woody towards the base, tender and green towards the tips of the plant. The leaves are 6-12 cm long, lance-shaped or ovate, green, and have a slightly toothed margin.

Deep red, tubular flowers, about 5-7 cm long, are produced from leaf axils as single flowers. Stamens and style are clearly visible, protruding outside the flower.

Some species have upright flowers, and some like Malvaviscus arboreus var arboreus have flowers that droop down to the ground. The beautiful, bright flowers attract humming birds, butterflies, bees, and other insects that help in pollinating the flowers. Once pollinated, the flowers produce small, red, berry-like fruits.

Wax mallow plants are drought-tolerant and can grow in various soil types, including clay, sandy, or loamy soil. They prefer partial to full sunlight to promote good flowering, though they can thrive in shade. Well-drained soil and regular fertilization can ensure a healthy plant that blooms well.

Wax mallows are resistant to drought and heavy rains, but it is essential that you to water them regularly during the summer months.

Though these plants are mostly grown as ornamental plants, they also have many medicinal uses in the treatment of wounds, cuts, hypertension, gastritis, liver problems, sore throat, fever, inflammation, skin diseases, cough, diarrhoea, and kidney diseases.

The flowers, fruits, and leaves are used to make jellies, salads, herbal teas, dyes, and beverages. Tender leaves are used in salads, or eaten steamed, sautéed, boiled or even stir-fried.

Propagation is through seeds and stem-cuttings. Seeds need to be planted in moist soil, and covered with a thin layer of soil. They can be transplanted to bigger pots once they have grown to 10-15 cm.

Semi-hard stem cuttings about 10-15 cm long can be cut from the parent plant for propagation. Remove all the leaves from the bottom portion of the cuttings, dip the end in rooting hormone and plant in moist, loose soil. New growth will appear in 10-14 days.