While 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.