Everything You Wanted to Know About Malvaceae–and Then Some!

– Posted in: Mallow family, Plant info, Recommended Links

Malva Bibor Felho, purple flowered mallowWhile looking for some images to illustrate my comment on this post, I came across an amazing site covering the entire mallow family: Malvaceae Info. Not only does it cover “mallows, abutilons, cotton, hibiscuses and related plants,” it also discusses “baobabs, balsa, kapok, kola, cacao, limes (lindens), durians and a wide variety of other plants,” which I infer are not regarded by everyone as being in the Malvaceae family.

To the left is my current favorite from the Malva family. I grew it from seed purchased from Thompson & Morgan, and they called it Malva sylvestris subsp. mauritiana ‘Bibor Felho.’ I call it ‘Bibor Felho’ for short. The first generation plants have the extra large flowers that make this cultivar so spectacular, and the color perfectly matches that of Monarda ‘Blue Stocking.’ It really can get to be quite a shrubby plant. This particular plant, at over five feet tall, was certainly one of the finest specimens I’ve grown. (It was probably sitting on a chunk of manure that didn’t get mixed in so well.) They tend to bloom later than the more common Malva alcea ‘Fastigiata,’ but will still look great after several frosts. It’s supposed to be a perennial, but often isn’t for me. I don’t know if it’s the cold or the lack of drainage during mud season that does it in. Sometimes I suspect if I cut it down promptly in the fall it would trigger some kind of change in the root to make it more inclined to throw up growth again in the spring. At any rate, it seeds itself moderately and blooms that same year, but in succeeding generations the flowers decrease in size, so that they become more similar to Malva ‘Zebrina.’ Of course, this could be due to the fact that I also grow ‘Zebrina,’ and the two have interbred. (Scroll down this page until you get to the images of Malva sylvestris seedlings taken by Kristin Yanker-Hansen. I have seen flowers very similar to that in my garden.)

Stewart Robert Hinsley, the creator of the Malvaceae site, is a man after my own heart: detail, detail, and more detail. From him I finally learned how to tell the difference between Malva moschata (Musk mallow) and Malva alcea (Hollyhock mallow):

Identification can be performed using the shape of the bracteoles (lanceolate – more than 3 times as long as wide – in Malva moschata and Malva tournefortiana, ovate – less than 3 times as long as wide – in Malva alcea), the indumentum of the calyx, epicalyx and pedicel (stellate in Malva alcea and Malva tournefortiana, simple in Malva moschata) and the mericarps (long white hairs in Malva moschata, absent or with short hairs in Malva alcea and Malva tournefortiana).

Got that? (To be fair, these differences are clearly illustrated in the Digital Herbarium.) I also learned that “Malva mauritiana was recognised as a species by Linnaeus, and reduced to a variety by Boissier. Most recent works do not recognise it as a distinct taxon.” Poor Bibor isn’t technically even a subspecies. He’s been relegated to a mere group–the Mauritiana group. How the mighty have fallen.

The one thing I’ve been dying to know, that Mr. Hinsley doesn’t mention, is who–or what–is Bibor Felho? Yes, I’ve googled it, and the only thing I’ve ever gleaned is that some people spell it Bibor Fehlo. I even emailed Thompson & Morgan, but they never wrote back. This caused me to lose faith in T&M. I mean, how hard is it write back and say We don’t know? Well, I’ll email Mr. Hinsley and see what he says.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Martha June 22, 2005, 11:52 am


I like your site about the malva flower. I am a gardener and I am also trying to grow Malva “bibor felho” for the first time this year. I am also a Hungarian-American and I know the language. “Bibor felho” are Hungarian words, “bibor” means “purple” but kind of a combination of “cardinal red & magenta” shade of purple, like the color of the flower. The word “felho” means “cloud.” So “bibor felho” roughtly means “purple cloud” (or more exactly cardinal-reddish-magenta-purple cloud” – I imagine it was named in Hungary, or at least by a Hungarian gardener, and whoever named it was trying to be precise about the color. (Also, in Hungarian the word “biboros” meand “cardinal” as in “Cardinals in the Catholic church” and that is because of the cardinal red hat and cardinal red vestments they wear.) In Hungarian the name of the flower is spelled “malyva” and it grows in Hungary too. Finally, there are accent marks on the Hungarian words but I have left them off ini this e-mail in case your e-mail server cannot handle foreign words. Hope you find this information of interest. Martha

Mia Goff May 30, 2005, 11:41 am

Yes, thanks … I think that is another tip I picked up somewhere on your site.

Question: do you use a traffic counter? I’ve been using StatCounter and really like it, but I’ve just read that there may be an issue with it’s method of leaving cookies etc.

Kathy Purdy May 29, 2005, 7:13 pm

Mia and Laurie–I’m glad to have helped. Technology is not for nerds only! By the way, make sure both of you get your blog feeds listed with Moosey’s Garden News Desk. I believe Bex is the one you need to contact: http://mooseyscountrygarden.com/garden-mail-box/bex-garden-mail-box.html

Laurie May 29, 2005, 7:03 pm

I’d like to echo the “thank you” about the gardening RSS feed. I stumbled around trying to figure out how the Bloglines RSS thing works before I found the post you had about RSS. I’ve still got more to learn on the subject, but I really appreciate the start.

rosemarie hanson May 29, 2005, 3:57 pm

I have Sidalcea “Party Girl” as well as “spharalcea incana” which I am trying to grow. I thought I was growing “Bravehart”, similar to “Bibor” but it turned out to be just a hollyhock.

Mia Goff May 29, 2005, 6:31 am

Very informative – thank you. I see your site feed is working again … that’s great. It’s sooooo nice being able to keep up with a news aggregator.

By the way, I have to thank you for giving me a start with RSS/Atom feeds due to an older post I read on your site when I was starting out with my blog.